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Michael Salcman

The Rainbow Is the Enemy of Envy

after Olafur Eliasson

Its generosity lies in its unexpected appearance

on a city corner or at the edge of the ocean,

the position of the sun, the humidity of the air

and the attention of our eyes perfectly aligned,

each one uniquely coddling a spectrum in red,

an orange, a green, a blue, an indigo and violet,

a momentary experiment like a kiss on an eyelid.

A rainbow is actually a circle and you would see it

whole if there were no horizon blocking the view

and you stood at its center in place of the earth.

Delaunay discovered his circles in just that way

by removing anything arrogant enough to compete

just to the side of where you have come to stand,

your own eyes freed of permanency and possession.

Bar Talk / Bartok

There are things you can’t say or do now

in the wrong environment or else

friendship may end at the door

after you blow a jar or two

of Talisker Ten

and the brown gray fur of your coat

gets hung as you implore a corner

to shake the rain from your bumble shoot

with one foot on the rail of the bar

and the other planted on its floor

just before the final word of your bar talk

makes a claim of cultural superiority

and planting your face softly breaks

your nose on the fist of gravity,

when a certain clarity comes.

No one shares your interests any more—

you can catch a cold before his name

rings a bell in this neon emporium.

Bartok he says, Bela Bartok, I can’t say

if I recall, I was born after he died

and nothing in New York lasts that long.


Michael Salcman – poet, physician and art historian – was chairman of neurosurgery at the University of Maryland and president of the Contemporary Museum. Poems appear in Arts & Letters, Barrow Street, The Café Review, Hopkins Review, The Hudson Review, New Letters, and Poet Lore. Books include The Clock Made of Confetti, The Enemy of Good is Better, Poetry in Medicine, his popular anthology of classic and contemporary poems on doctors, patients, illness & healing, A Prague Spring, Before & After, winner of the 2015 Sinclair Poetry Prize, and Shades & Graces, inaugural winner of The Daniel Hoffman Legacy Book Prize (Spuyten Duyvil, 2020). Necessary Speech: New & Selected Poems was published by Spuyten Duyvil in 2022.


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