A NARROW MARGIN OF COLOR
White star scented air, dry and crisp
at 6,000 feet. The moon with a large ring
—translucent, ocular fuzz.
We step out at midnight—
a monochromatic nocturne.
The sky tinged with a barely-there-blue
we admire soft light on snow,
the Tamarack’s black trunks.
and thin shadows of wintering dogwood.
A glacial spectrum. I think moongarten,
and know night owns this landscape.
Next day, on snowshoes,
we trek the meadow, sun so bright,
a quick stop to rest our eyes.
There in deep shade
a neon blue that disappears
in bright sun. You say,
“It’s the water content that makes the crystals
seem electrified, the filament lit from within.”
We stomp around trees,
in and out of light, testing our perception—
such a narrow margin
of color absorbed.
I’ve seen the sign above small taverns,
a martini glass with an olive just-that-blue,
and on paint chips: Feather Falls,
Peace River, June Lake, Carthage…
but the closest I come—Chagall’s pencil,
writing the sky over Vitebsk.
South Lake Tahoe, January 1, 2010
(first pub. in Tahoe Blues Anthology, Bona Fide Books)
HOARFROST (Gelée blanche)
(after Camille Pissarro)
With stout walking staff, the farmer trudges
uphill, bent with his bundle
of kindling for the evening fire.
Absent trees climb in a late afternoon,
upper branches invisible
over a far ridge. Shadows bend
with the terrain, defoliated in winter haze.
Opaque glare sheets a white glaze
over purple ribboned furrows.
How intriguing to add swatches
of slick hoarfrost, like a patchwork
clipped and laid in place
on carefully tilled earth, his Snow Effect.
At the bottom of the swale,
I imagine the artist just out of frame,
warm brazier and small stool
under his grey umbrella. Pungent
waste rags with too much color
scatter and stiffen.
He is excited by the cartilage
of this new work: arc lines, delicate clavicles.
As his outer mood directs bones
of the landscape, the inner explores
the beauty of absence.
I don’t agree with the critic that says
an entire grove is missing.
Notice a suggestion of Pollard willows
lining the stream, reaching trunks
made even more willowy
by the earth’s curvature, the entire piece
a caged windbreak.
A small shrub dissolves into garnet clumps
of flame. The walker continues,
soft crush of ice underfoot.
All is metered,
slow stride in tomorrow’s sun.
Note: “Pissarro commits the grave error of painting fields with shadows cast by trees placed outside the frame. The viewer is left to suppose they exist."
—Critic, Jules Antoine Castagnary, LeSiècle, 29 April 1874
(first pub. in Ekphrasis)
SNOW FALLING WITHOUT WIND
A jittery sun on the page, flickers
from the window, distracts me from reading
and afternoon tea. It’s the wobbly shutters
unable to staunch this wintering light,
a light masked by myrtle trees in summer.
The right adjustment and hinges clatter,
dispel dark on this December day, as if flinted
sparks from below begin a drift of white, slow,
then turbulent—a sight if seen from the road
appears electrified. My room, now blustery
in the slight turn of rickety slats. On powdery
sheet music, a splintered sun activates red-gloved
skaters muffled in blue, a blanched meadow, trilling
convent bells and the silent chirping of silver larks.
(first pub.in South Dakota Review)
Many decades ago I circled
frozen air. The barricade
I moved to the narrow slot,
ducked under the footbridge, the ice
everywhere a dull monochrome,
not even a spot of sun.
Summer willows bent and hooked,
created snags on the surface, like eyelets
ready to fasten errant skaters.
The ice appeared thick.
If I fell through
no one would find me until spring.
They would all be sorry,
wouldn’t have to tolerate
my fidgeting, my gawkiness,
my breezy thoughts.
I wanted to keep on, maybe north
to Duluth, find a new family.
A downed tree blocked my path.
A scarlet cardinal, the only
color in all this parchment, fastened legs
tight to a spur, tilted his head,
and scolded me back
to the warming hut and frothy cocoa.
Now I wonder, how many
other times I’ve tested myself and if
it is true that willows
never forget how to be young?*
*A thought by William Stafford
THE GARDEN OF THE TUILERIES
ON A WINTER AFTERNOON
(after Camille Pissarro)
Not a small park with elfin architectures,
but vast corridors where the eye defines history.
I wear frayed gabardine, my worn top-hat,
let the brief hours decide slower steps. Stratus clouds,
yellow and blue, scratch a paler sky, topaz and azure
caught in leathery trees, those mellow colors
just before a hard freeze. Shreds of summer balloons,
once happy orbs, snag in ancient elms. Gone
are carts selling feather monkeys and shiny
vessels cast by tiny hands across Triton’s pond.
I hear the snip-snap, the lone gardener clipping
a trellis rose. My pace quickens. The lone sundial
points toward home. I must hurry, make time
for the small café, the steamy espresso.
(first pub. in Kind of Hurricane Press)
VINCI IN WINTER
In this small village, chilled by late November rain,
a sweetness comes from hillsides puffed with sheep.
I climb past beryl tinted groves to the family home,
a middle class dwelling, perhaps grander in its day.
I see a small boy on fluffy carpets sketching
before the orange tongued hearth.
A domed ceiling welcomes diffused light,
scant shadows on plaster walls, the fire
sparking images starker than the pale sun.
Did he listen to the farm cart’s rattle on stone,
repetitive motion, or from a window,
note gushing streams and iron watersheds?
Look into the stains of walls, or ashes of a fire
or mud; you may find marvelous ideas.
On leaving, birds scan small rodents,
wait for brash thermals, the center bone of flight.
Trees drench sieved textures like lush swatches
clipped from velvet bolts, crushed sage and violet.
Twisted trunks seem screwed to earth, black olives,
saved for oil, still cling. How warmed I am.
Everything is precious. The beauty of fret-worked
roads, a matter of years, no shortcut to genius.
Italics: Da Vinci’s Notebooks
(first pub. in Forge Poetry Journal)
The poet doesn’t invent. He listens.