Alexandra Teague is a professor of creative writing at the University of Idaho, the author of three volumes of poetry and two books of prose, the first being The Principles Behind Flotation, and her most recent, Spinning Teacups: A Mythical American Memoir.  Explore further through her website. The Duchamp painting, Nude Descending the Stairs, is inherently liminal, which is reflected in the way Teague crafts her poem.

Duchamp’s Nude Descending Speaks

I’ve been there all along—not here, but where
the light shifts like the stutter when a phonograph skips
just slightly, the voice overlapping with its later

self—like l’esprit de l’escalier: what we think of after
on the stairs: that perfect retort, that wit
never synched to the moment. I’ve been here

on the brink of the landing, something truer
to tell you. My dream of one face. I tried holding still
even slightly, but my legs kept overlapping with later:

I was flamenco and nun. Accordion. Fan-fold and war
from two years in the future; the bodies already shipped
back. Their faces on the staircase—here where

time pleats into new reasons. Our hands: broken guitar
strings; machinery unable to touch. I was a flip-
book of women. A zoetrope in a movie—each later

inside the last one like regret. Each self over-
correcting. What should I have said? There is no step
that is not also stepping; where I am not everywhere
you imagine me, where I imagine myself too late.

From Or What We’ll Call Desire (Persea, 2019) Alexandra Teague


Duchamp Nude Descending the Stairs: Oxford Art Online