A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
Deep water doesn’t need thick paint.
It’s hard to guess what else the man
moored to the reedy cape of land
knows or controls. Doesn’t everyone
covet an easel? — its smart little body
named after onagers and donkeys, ancestor
of art kept trim. And the places
it’s had its back to, all stunning (wild)
or disquieting (overbuilt).
But is the man in fact there
to listen to the water lap? Within
that stranger: all unpainted lives, primarily pallid.
So a little drug of paint won’t hurt.
And while he colors-in what moves
and shades what doesn’t budge,
mountain and estuary toss him back,
forth, saying work work work between
the colors, the way “all blessings” do
in a doxology. Flow, before they go
forever dry. Walter said: “For a change,
a person wasn’t an intrusion.
He made it even more peaceful there.
He was becoming a part of it.
He was showing respect for the place.
Paint the creek.” And he did.
One gold all over for tree lupine, gumweed,
mustard, lotus, sulfur paintbrush, stonecrop,
sweet fennel, monkey flower, sea tansy —
it would drive you mad
if your body didn’t then wipe white around,
then blue. I said: “Not a writer in the same scene:
what’s the difference?”
Walter said:“— can’t see what the poet’s writing.
— A poet could be writing about New York;
we knew that man was painting that scene.
— He was probably just thinking about the next
color. He was trying to match up things.
He’s trying to come close to something —
some ideal he sees out there.
We’re making, he’s simulating.
That’s not right but it’s close.
— I would like to know how to paint water.
Writing is like running in place.”
Minnows in the marsh-plant roots.
They would drive you mad
if your body didn’t bestow its charity, didn’t shadow
even this refreshed tidal world
a little too.
From Certain Uncollected Poems, Ostrakon Press, 2012.