April 1, 2019 Poetry , POETRY / FICTION

sacklerpain photo



Lewis Braham




La Belle Sackler



OxyContin’s rotten but it built the Met.

What Price?

Giza, the Taj, Shelley’s wife washed up on the shore?

The Great Shakes’ second-best bed?

Franz’s Hunger Artist gnawing on his own head.

The southern belle with lymphoma I knew who had her hair and makeup done before going under the knife.

What Price?

When I was twelve, I was fat.

When I was thirteen, I stuck my fingers down my throat.

My face a death’s-head mask.

Leni’s Olympians trampled the soot of my ancestors.

What price?

The tuition at NYU?

In every workshop my identity’s a sin.

When what we’re really doing is swapping one hegemon for another so the legacies can still get in?

Would Thatcher be better than Reagan, Amin Trump?

You pressed the point of your red pen down so hard my work bled.

And maybe, maybe, if more critics liked Adolf’s art, who knows?

At a Chatham Gist Street soiree their sinecure says to me in the audience

“It’s good that only the serious writers get to read,

Not the hobbyists.”

I made 47k last year from my words.

But to her I’m a no-count hobbyist, a denizen of the slams.

And who amongst us wouldn’t boogie at the Carnegie Reggae lounge if he asked you to for a grant?

If money’s the root, what sort of strange fruit are we?

What price?

When you listen to Thriller now, do you think of a speckled Wacko Jacko in a moppet’s mouth?

Or Ta Nehesi writing Black Panther. Clearwater’s Fortunate Son hocking Levi’s. The dude abiding for Stella Artois?

Orpheus ripped to shreds by Maenads for not giving his patron a shout-out on Yelp?

In the end of the Cherry Orchard the muzhik stands with his axe.

While a billion today hack at the world wide web.

And who am I, who are you, who are we to judge?

And who will be left to watch?

But Giza, Giza, not slaves but peasants, not my ancestor’s carrying celluloid slabs for De Mille’s, but men interred with the pharaoh with meat in their bellies and arthritic knees.

Perhaps I too am a peasant helping rich idiots build their own pyramid schemes.

I asked my lit prof once would he let one person die for Hamlet or Lear to exist. Without a beat, yes. What about ten, twenty? A thousand? I didn’t dare.

And I am expected to go to my grave unhouseled, disappointed, unaneled because I didn’t have the right agent, the right parents, the right bank account.

If I put money in thy purse, will you buy the Great Shakes’ wife a better bed?

Give Franz’s Hunger Artist something else to feed on besides his own head.

And then there’s Phil. Good neighbor Phil, the glazier’s son, back from Iraq and hooked on Hillbilly Heroin.

While in New York a docent tours the Temple of Dendur. “Look, there’s Horus, the sky god, and the offerings from the faux pharaoh Augustus to him.”

On my block in Bellevue, Phil stumbles in his glass shack mumbling about his favorite coffee bean, his head slumping to the table as he flies higher, higher, higher on Sackler’s wings.

Just like everyone.






Lewis Braham

Lewis Braham is a Pittsburgh-based writer whose work has appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Bloomberg and Reuters. He wrote his poem “La Belle Sackler” in response to the news that museums are cutting ties with the Sackler family because of its connection to the opiod crisis: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/25/arts/design/sackler-museums-donations-oxycontin.html

The Sacklers, who own opiod-maker Purdue, are major patrons who’ve ruined thousands of American addicts’ lives. The influence of money on the arts both fascinates and horrifies Lewis. The people sacrificed for art to exist–an existence dependent on patronage from the wealthy–is his theme. The poem’s title alludes to Keats’ La Belle Dame sans Merci. 

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