Pacific Palisades

Erin O’Luanaigh

It’s California: we’ve reached the end of taste.
We’re strolling on the Getty Villa’s bluff,
its merit weighed against the megalithic waste
of historic reproduction. (What’s Egyptian
about the Egyptian Revival; Parisian
in the Vegas Strip’s Arc de Triomphe?)

A super-sized riff on the Villa dei Papyri
(“The original, at least, was blown to ash,”
we console ourselves beneath a marquee
hawking lattes) with a lobby built to recall
an excavation, its galleries house the haul
of the thinking man’s robber baron: a cache

of Herakleses, kouri, hydra’d hydrias,
a replica of a Pompeii fountain mapped
with West-Coast shells, the coinage of Illyria,
Cycladic figures, the alleged “Mazarin” Venus,
gardens with herbs of ancient Roman genus,
a satyr reclining as in a Kardashian snap…

Visitors pose so thickly in the peristyles,
we struggle to escape another’s selfie;
still, in an atrium frisbeed with sundials,
I admit equal beguilement by counterfeit
and bona fide alike: “Who’s to say what’s legit?
A Roman original is a Greek man’s copy.”

Called back from antiquity to the traffic
rumbling below, where mention of Inceville’s
studio passes for ancient history (its epics:
Civilization—widely deemed low brow—
and The Italian, whose hero nosed the prow
of a gondola down Venice Beach’s rills),

or further up, where once lived Brecht,
Adorno, Schoenberg, and the magic Mann
(all told: the Weimar by the Sea) in glass-decked
houses out of David Hockney, we list,
, out of the Villa’s gate. The novelist,
when not apprising Hesse of his wanton lawn

(the Eden in which he’d torment Leverkühn),
partied with Cagney, Jack Warner, Berlin,
and handed tassen to a young Sontag, soon
to take the devil’s bargain for her own art.
We quote her missive on allusion, that no part
of any work is new, that all is reproduction…

Across the highway, we sink through coastal sage
to watch the sunset on the “proper” shore
against outcrops dated to the Miocene Age.
Like good Easterners, we shield our eyes
from the vulgarity of pleasure, the paradise
unearned, the honest falsehood, the easily-adored.

Erin O’Luanaigh is a poet whose work has appeared in The Southern Review, Subtropics, AGNI, 32 Poems, The Hopkins Review, and The New Criterion, among other journals. She is co-host of the film and literature podcast (sub)Text.
Originally published:
June 1, 2022


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