A man made of bronze is poised on a ladder, his arms raised to the skies. The Russian artist Kabakov was commissioned to make this work named How to Meet an Angel for a psychiatric institution in Amsterdam. Understandably, the work initially sparked protest. Isn’t this the image of a man wanting to commit suicide, which is, of course highly inappropriate? After a while, it occurred to the objectors that this wasn’t a man trying to take his own life, but a man trying to meet an angel. Just like you. Just like me.
Each time I see this man in wait for an angel, I always think of a line of poetry by the English poet Auden. The Russian poet Brodsky once wrote that these words should be the foundations of a religion.
I’ve written a poem in which Auden and Kabakov meet each other.
A son’s prayer
I look at Kabakov’s man. Standing
On a ladder, arms outstretched to the heavens.
That is I, I think.
Reaching to my faraway father.
Let this then be my prayer:
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.