Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Sandra McPherson: Landscape Painter, Salmon Creek, July 1991

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.

Salmon Creek, California

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