Literature 10-1-2007

What Light: This Week’s Poem: Mike Rollin

"What Light: This Week's Poem,” sponsored by Magers and Quinn Booksellers, brings you a poem every week by a Minnesota poet, selected by a panel of writers and publishers. Look for our anthology, “What Light,” at Magers and Quinn in Uptown or on line.

mike r


(The Doryphoros, Roman copy of Greek original by Polykleitos, 120-50 B.C., marble)

We piled off the bus—field trip!—
my teacher saying, suggestive and disinterested, “Just look.”
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts free and full of kids,
Chinese jades, gods and goddesses from everywhere,
room after room of very old faces looking back at us.
And here this one naked man
so tall and alone in his own room,
“The Spearthrower” though he’d lost his spear long ago
along with the hand that held it. Such a serious look
on his face, his cheeks and lips worn down, misty,
naked for so long! His stomach sticking out
with a little hip shimmy, from the side he was
sort of a blockhead. His cock and balls
gone, we giggled and pointed and I felt the little cock
in my pants and felt funny still circling him,
like I was naked too.
Nobody said don’t stare. I stared,
the Roman looking out over me. I think

I was aware in a cloudy but not confusing way

this body was a made thing,
the mottled gray-white marble, smooth but not soft,
somebody made it long ago, hand and chisel to stone.
He seemed to step forward, out into the room
the same step for so many years.
I circled him to see where he stared,
circled and somehow it was better
than trips to look at the monkeys and tigers at the zoo.
Maybe I spun around, maybe I flapped my arms,
maybe I struck a pose too, imaginary spear in my left hand.
He wasn’t getting back on the bus with us
but still mine to keep, this way to stand—
right foot sneaking forward for balance
me and my Roman ready, come what may.


I wrote “Spearthrower” to honor a moment of being a child and blown away by a work of art, and also to honor the art teachers who open those doors for us all (and the museums too, it’s amazing the MIA continues to be free). I don’t recall being “prepared” for the museum or what I might see, just set loose. It was an early experience of being pulled out of my body (or maybe deeper into it) toward something larger, something old, beautiful, and strangely compelling. At the time I started writing this, I also read about an art teacher in Texas who ran into some trouble in part because one of her students saw nude art on a field trip, and it reminded me how representations of the body continue to be perceived as dangerous in certain times and places.


Mike Rollin is counting the days until the Bush bunch is gone gone and gone
and we can take our habeas corpus back, but not holding his breath. In
between stints at the U of M (BA 1993, MFA 2007), he worked as teacher,
interpreter, and community organizer. And for one luminous night, as a
Buddhist televangelist. He’s had poems in Puerto del Sol, Water~Stone,
Bombay Gin, Northwest Review, Atlanta Review,
and elsewhere. He lives in
Minneapolis in fabulous Powderhorn Park, and serves the urges of art and
community on the board of the Powderhorn Writers Festival.