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'Paintings' and a Fugitive Poetics
Transcript of 'Paintings' and a Fugitive Poetics
Woman in the Bath
Dancers at the Bar
The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte
Basthers at Asnieres
On White II
Landscape at L'Estaque
Composition in Oval with Colour Planes I
Still Life with Fruit Dish and Mandolin
I and the Village
Joan Miro, A Star Caresses the Breast of a Negress, 1938
Earths, Glyphs and Sun
Remembrance of a Garden
Still Life with teapot and Fruit
Every morning I wake with their blood-colour
saturating wall and ceiling—
three paintings you vouchsafed
'to remember our places'.
They’re mostly atmosphere,
yet there’s a figure
at the bottom of the smallest frame.
Daily I peer, trying to determine
whether it’s starting to rise
or in the act of sitting. As I do
I see you there, just out of the frame,
leaning towards me with that characteristic
slope of your body, as if about to kiss.
I step back, residual intimacy—
humid, lit with flickers and tongues—
drooping on the image like a shawl.
Red falls about me like heat—
that carriage of place and past
that knows no frames or walls.
This morning, the paintings leer.
I inspect one’s craquelure,
consider applying surface glue
to temporarily still
its casting away of flakes—
of face, herbiferous foliage,
splotches of rainbow.
Beneath, there’s white ground
and dark board
that sucks in light as through a hole
like infinities of failed gesture.
The room might disappear.
A fox darts from one painting,
and birds fall from another
like a thousand snowflakes.
A third is as opaque as self-abstraction.
Into the room a train tunnels
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus
Musée des Beaux Arts
About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window
or just walking dully along;
Some say thronging cavalry, some say foot soldiers,
others call a fleet the most beautiful of
sights the dark earth offers, but I say it’s what-
ever you love best.
Upon it he inlaid a dancing-floor, like the one
that Daedalus built for in Knossos for Ariádne.
Young men and rich-dowried girls were dancing upon it,
moving gracefully holding each other’s wrists.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
Shield of Achilles, as interpreted by Angelo Monticelli, ca 1820
Today, they startle—
a ratcheting sound
like tightening wire;
slaps of sail;
a gale that twitches
with blue and white flags;
a yacht bruising catspaws.
Soon there’s a deluge
of dancers and crowds;
a stripper who twists
in tense, orange light
her movements like kisses
on elasticised fabric,
her cascade of sequins
like squeezed cellophane.
I’m out in the garden
as time shunts night
towards a small beach—
there’s the sound of yapping,
grit in my teeth
and a lighthouse hissing
with jags of red paint.
five children climb
to a mosque or small church.
A gunship is circling.
A splash of black paint
explodes in a cornfield.
There’s no goodly view
to throw this scene
into stable perspective.
The man near the shop
is facing a wall
with white, skewered arms.
The face might be frowning
or merely possessed
by some spasm of knowledge.
His arms are akimbo
like a tightrope exotic
wheeling past crowds.
There’s a road of asphalt,
a knot in the hills—