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By Kevin Young

night watch

You can fall in love
in a museum, but only

with the art
or its silence—or the stranger

you don’t mean to follow

suffering past the Old Masters
& the unnamed

servants. Rembrandt’s face
half in shadow—

you can fall for what
isn’t there already, or

with the 13th century—the swan
raising up, roosters hung

upside down to die on a cross—

Even the tourists gathered
round the docent, the same

jokes & half-truths,
loom beautiful—

the children crying hurried
out of sight. Forget

The Night Watch, the crowds,
instead follow the quiet

to the portraits of light
entering a room. These walls,

few windows, hold
the world—what the world

couldn’t say till someone
saw it first—and now

it’s everywhere. The braids
    of that woman’s hair.

self-portrait with felt hat

One should never be in love

when in a museum—
    better to be alone, if not
utterly, then practically—

tired of feet, & routine,
    forge ahead beyond
the bounds of audio-tours

& family, isolate, avoid
    this couple oblivious
to it all, the captions & arrows,

kissing like no tomorrow
    beside Van Gogh’s sunflowers—
bruised, chartreuse, brilliant

& wilting for years, yet never
    managing to. Skip
holding hands & Gauguin’s

portrait of Van Gogh
    painting what he saw. The crows
gather like clouds, black—

or the crowds—that the couple
    doesn’t care about—
numb to all else. Best

    believe in the world
more than yourself.

Source: Poetry (July 2023)

Poet Bio

Kevin Young
Kevin Young was born in Lincoln, Nebraska. He studied under Seamus Heaney and Lucie Brock-Broido at Harvard University and, while a student there, became a member of the Dark Room Collective, a community of African American writers. “I feel like a poem is made up of poetic and unpoetic language, or unexpected language,” Young said in a 2006 interview with Ploughshares. “I think there are many other vernaculars, whether it’s the vernacular of the blues, or the vernacular of visual art, the sort of living language of the everyday.” For roughly a decade, Young was the Atticus Haygood Professor of Creative Writing and English and curator of Literary Collections and the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library at Emory University. Young is the poetry editor of the New Yorker and the director of New York Public Library's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. See More By This Poet

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