July Mosaics: Juxtaposition

Years ago, I had the privilege of rubbing eyeballs with royalty. Flanked by an impressive retinue of distinguished figure heads, the curly-haired king stood before a hushed audience at my university and delivered a cultural manifesto on the artist’s role in creating the juxtaposition of political and religious imagery to benefit and protect society.

But I was more interested in that king’s shoes.

Because they didn’t appear to touch the ground. They hovered like flattened, almost cartoonish, alligator heads, and they obliged me to reevaluate my sense of space and time.

Indeed, my first meeting with King Justinian during an art history course served as a befuddling introduction into the realm of Byzantine abstraction. Why did his feet hang down like a dead man’s? Why did his legs take up so much space, creating a royal disturbance of proportion? And why had someone chosen to gift-wrap someone’s head with a golden halo? Seriously. What happened to the taut, rippling muscles of the classical tradition?

Had art really allowed itself to atrophy into a two-dimensional space? Why? Was something wrong in the kingdom?

And yet, Justinian has managed to stand there, for 2,500 years, as a brilliant mosaic, reflecting the medieval light of a larger culture inside the sacred space of San Vitale. Each tesserae was hammered into place, with purpose, and each angle still points toward some deeper definition, which can only be fully pondered within the mysterious glow of the cathedral.

Using millions of pieces of glass, the artists made sure each one mattered and belonged to a larger idea.

This Smarthistory video about “Justinian and His Attendants” provides a brief overview of how a mosaic of thought can change the way we see the world. It adds some proof that some of the world’s most intriguing and breathtaking visions can be arranged, piece by piece, by a culture of artists who work together to explore the juxtaposition of our disparate perspectives.

Let’s Build July Mosaics!

All month long we’re arranging poems at Tweetspeak. We call it July Mosaics. We write found poems and share them on Facebook, Twitter and personal blogs, though we always link back to here. Last week we wrote poems by using words from “Democracy” by Todd Davis. In the poem, we watch as “more than five hundred juncos” form a shifting mosaic of thought, inviting us to

“wonder at the way everything
changes, on account of one bird’s decision,
all of us avoiding what we thought
was a certain end.”

Maureen Doallas couldn’t avoid playing with the pattern. She wrote,

The Awful Avoiding

This is about more
than the motion
of the hand itself,

the way it comes
winging at everything,
gathering the storm

in our direction. One
of us changes
the other. The way

the light tips and shifts
would have no meaning
without the awful avoiding.

Rosanne Osborne watched the pattern move from another point of view. She wrote,


Flocks of juncos in flight
like synchronized swimmers
account for space, wing tips
and beaks in perfect symmetry.

Connected but not connected,
invisible threads bring meaning
to motion, avoidance without thought.
Cooperation beyond decision,

decision beyond wonder,
the awful reality that certainty
hangs on meaning that heads
cannot comprehend. When

Robert Penn Warren’s Jack Burden
bit into a persimmon, on a hot day
in Louisiana, a Tibetan tinker’s teeth
were set on edge a world away.

How Do I Build July Mosaics?

If you haven’t already, please consider subscribing to Every Day Poems.

1. On Mondays, the Every Day Poem in your inbox becomes a pile of raw material. Sort through the words and find a few gems. Rearrange as many as you want into a new found poem. You’re free to mix in your own words.

2. Tweet your poems to us. Add a #tsmosaics hashtag so we can find it and maybe share it with the world.

3. Or leave your found poem here in the comment box.

We’ll read your tweets and share some of your weekly play each week. At the end of the month, we’ll choose a winning poem and ask the playful poet to record his or her poem to be featured in one of our upcoming Weekly Top 10 Poetic Picks.

Here’s today’s Every Day Poem. Now go play with some juxtaposition.

Photo by SJMcDonough. Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Matthew Kreider.


Buy a year of Every Day Poems, just $2.99— Read a poem a day, become a better poet. In July we’re exploring the theme The Cento.



    • says

      And sharing space with you as been a special privilege all summer long as we’ve played with word combinations. It’s been such fun being part of a community that has found meaning in reconfiguring pieces of language, working out a constant mosaic.

  1. says


    We changed houses like others planted new gardens, stored
    their wool sweaters in moth balls, and washed their curtains
    and shampooed carpets. Moving from one side of the highway to another,
    town to country, street to street, there was a restlessness about us.

    We were birds that built fresh nests each season. The houses blur
    in memory, similarities more outstanding than differences.
    Most were low to the ground, all rooms clinging to the earth,
    but the trail like so many locust hulls discarded in metamorphosis

    had its own anomalies, a kitchen bar here, a basement there, and a trio
    of second stories. Yet two of those second stories seemed like houses
    stacked on top of each other, stairways merely openings with steps.
    Only one rises in memory to catch imagination, the stairway

    with a curved bannister, its rooms carefully separated for more
    than function. It was that bannister that guests saw upon entering
    the front door, its curve at the bottom promising something more
    than bedrooms at the top, an ascension of more than foot following foot.

  2. Laurie Flanigan says

    Wonderful writing Matthew, Maureen, and Rosanne. I love the lines and the thoughts:

    “Each tesserae was hammered into place, with purpose, and each angle still points toward some deeper definition, which can only be fully pondered within the mysterious glow of the cathedral.”

    of us changes
    the other.”

    “a Tibetan tinker’s teeth
    were set on edge a world away.”

    It makes me want to be a simple tesserae that ripples all the way to Tibet.

  3. says


    The weight of the world
    rides on our shoulders
    as we slip arms into shirts
    sewn by Chinese women
    in Shanghai factories.

    Trendy labels sit comfortably
    on our necks, stitched
    into collars by mothers who
    work seventy-hour weeks,
    ten-hour days to buy the rice

    to feed their families. Three
    of those hours might buy
    a pack of Chiclets as we pass
    Walgreen’s on our way
    to shop for yet another shirt.

  4. says

    Saying the Beads

    We count the beads of being hanging round
    our necks like so many monks numbering
    the knots on their ropes, fingering their beads
    in prayer. Ours are teardrops touching memories,

    raw reliquaries of unresolved conflicts,
    unrequited emotions, reprisals regretful
    for their petty motivations. Some are globules
    we’ve never understood, actions that we can’t

    quite admit or reconcile with who we have become.
    Others are spheroids of incompletion, efforts
    begun and aborted, evidence of our lack
    of courage and resolve. Yet some are startlingly

    perfect in form and symmetry. We look at them
    and wonder at the way they touch the holy other.
    We gaze at the reflection in their florescence,
    and we bend our knees to the touch of blessing.

  5. says

    Factory Punched

    Is the woman still at the conveyor belt,
    Whose factory-punched worth
    Is less in a year than mine in a month?

    The inspector who passed the velveteen
    ribbon slowly through his fingers
    to sway above her navel: “This’ll do.”

    Hundreds of tiny seeds of glass glimmer
    on her cheek, spilling down her shirt
    while she manufactures mine.

    The world has made its preparations;
    She flops on the couch and falls asleep.
    Where are her pink, praying angels?

  6. says

    This’ll do!

    Climbing the pomegranate stairway,
    searching for the key. Neon ribbons
    glimmer like daisies spilling
    through fingers. Gold conveyers
    swirl, angels raining seeds
    in a metal harvest. The velveteen
    rabbit, his misshapen lumps
    flopping on the couch, ponders
    the difference between what is
    plastic and what is real.

  7. says

    I’ve pondered all week what’s made this week’s poem a difficult starter. Why have so few poets responded? Why have I struggled so to gain a toehold. Is it the density of the images of “Girl with 13 Necklaces,” the compactness of images stacking one upon the other? The poem is, in truth, a mosaic in and of itself. Is there a reluctance in adding to a picture that seems complete?

  8. says


    Pigment swirling in her paint,
    the custom-designer is decked out
    in multi-splotched jeans,
    an enormous work shirt, sleeves rolled,
    and a husband’s frayed Saints cap.

    She tests a strip, stands back
    to measure the effect against
    the image floating just beyond
    consciousness, the stuff of angel
    schematics and the plastics

    of extreme makeovers.
    Color imprisons her as bristles
    meet sheetrock. Her arms move
    mechanically, planting the seeds
    of home improvement. Polymers
    of acrylic acid clutch pristine walls.

    She sways to the spilling tint
    losing herself in spinning neon
    tangles on the conveyor belt
    of hope. She flops on the floor
    and stares at the perfect perfidy

    of the choice she was beguiled
    to make from the 13 sequential
    shades the salesman offered,
    his tongue grooved and clacked
    and feet clacked the polished floor.

  9. says


    She clacks and clatters
    down hardened, dusty way,
    hundreds of tiny seeds
    spilling by her sway.
    Strings of multicolored beads
    encircle her weary neck,
    muscled by heavy, hand-woven
    basket, plopped atop her cinta,
    worn like a million women before her.
    She barters harvested maize
    and the woman still at the conveyor belt,
    whose fingers nudge factory-punched
    gold medals that stray,
    negotiates an exchange.
    Her deal made -a fair trade.
    Grinning, her teeth like chiclets,
    at loggers moving big rigs
    with mechanical arms
    on her way home.
    The universe has made its preparations,
    swirling pigments of the old with
    so-called new world.

  10. says

    I’m late this week but here’s my poem:

    Conveyors of a World of Lumps

    Mechanical angels, their big gold arms
    swinging slowly, monitor the clacks
    and clatters of tiny glass beads passed
    through hundreds of fingers—misshapen
    conveyors of a world of lumps. A girl, 13,
    spins and tangles her necklaces of pink
    polymer daisies and pomegranate seeds.
    The pinched inspector, factory-punched
    medals spilling down multicolored shirt,
    falls still. For the woman with a beautiful
    velveteen ribbon at her neck, the weight
    of praying shifting with the schematics
    of the rainstorm, this’ll do.

    (As used here, lumps is slang for misfortunes.)

  11. Laurie Flanigan says

    The side street photo prompt worked its way into this mosaic, but it still ends with Monday’s poem. :)

    Tracing a Glimmering Trail

    I tour the
    smooth warn river
    stones of a
    gray-black cobbled
    back street.

    Bobbing about with
    no cash in
    hand makes me
    an unlikely
    candidate for the lure

    of the shops,
    until the sky opens with
    a river of its own.

    When the downpour
    running inside,
    I pour over used
    goods and wonder
    at each

    after hand,
    after hand,
    every hand
    worn item,
    them off to the next
    interested party.

    hands were
    too full to hold

    held on
    too long and
    released, regrettably?

    Whose, like mine,
    work any

    Whose were

    Each was
    a gift, in
    way, like


    a tiny seed
    of glass,

    in the fall.


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