“What’s it Like Working in a Gallery?”

A poem by Charles Daston

One day a father walks in with his very young son.

Paintings become quizzes

of shapes and colors and things—

What’s that?

A red stripe. A mango. A pink square—

the boy turns a sudden right and sees Rothko’s No. 2:

two fields of color, one purple, one red,

on a gold ground.

A purple rectangle!

he says without prompting.


When I was young I dragged my father

to the front of airplanes to see

the little round window

and we would look out at the sky

so little and round

like the enamel charms

on your bracelet.

You showed me all of them that day—

Your hometown. Your father. Your rosary of Joan—

It was the first time I wanted to kiss your hand.


The father puts on his son’s mittens

and they bow their heads to the Chicago cold.

I am left watching Rothko’s No. 2:

a purple rectangle walled off

from rusted drainpipes and the grayish waves

of melting snow.


Charles Daston is a fourth-year at the University of Chicago majoring in English, and works as a docent at the Smart Museum of Art. He grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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