Tuesday, May 16, 2017

At the Grave of Edward MacDowell

With evergreen fistfuls of leaves,
mountain laurel vaults the path.
The gloom flatters me and eases
the approach, diffusing shadows
that otherwise might darken
into doubts about his music,
which hardly anyone performs
although a few recordings persist.

This pine-upholstered avenue
hardly a hundred feet long
enters a stone-walled square
arched with a trellis. A boulder
bears a plaque, and the graves
of Marian and Edward lie flat
as graves most often do, gazing
up through layers of infinity.

Such an earthy location: stone,
lichen, pine and laurel, the woods
too dense to easily breach.
But beyond the trees the open
smile of the local country club
welcomes golfers whose cursing
dangle in the humid light
like panicles spilling pollen.

This reminds me that we remember
artists for the inflorescence
of their work, not for the shade
they cast on the people they love
and abuse in the name of art.
The flowers of MacDowell’s career
shudder in the breeze and shed
petals onto these lonely graves.     

I’ve come here for silence, not art.
I can’t play an instrument
and can’t hum any melody
written by Edward MacDowell—
although I have to honor him
for the vaulting of his laurel
and the plain little stone bearing
his first and my middle name.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

With and Without You on May Day

Last night’s rain inspires the brook
to gush in marbled undertones
alien to its milder moods.
I wish you were with me to cross
the gap freshly opened between
the path and the wooden footbridge
where excess water has sprawled
like a nineteenth-century nude.

You exert more hydraulic force
than this falling water but
sometimes in the presence of birds
and the early spring flowers
you draw yourself like a shade
and crouch in that wordless dark
as if natural gestures frightened you.

As the sum or summaries of all
the books you’ve read, you feel obliged
to culture, inclined to parse
the language of birds, flowers, brooks
as so much eloquence spent
on air, on the empty space
where no one significant cares.

Having safely crossed the brook
I shuffle up the trail to greet
the dead tree that for many years
has presented the gaping look
of a face contorted in screams.
Sometimes we see each other
in that face, sometimes we glimpse
that tree in each other’s expression.                      

The dripping forest exhales
the purest oxygen in colors
that would flatter your complexion.
The brook grumbles downhill
to snuff itself in larger colors
in which one day we’ll acquiesce
with many snuffles of oxygen
we’ll gladly, for a moment, share.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

A Shadow Crucifix

Botticelli’s crucifix,
two slats of painted, varnished wood
casts a shadow crucifix
darker than a threat. Despite
the agony, the figure looks

caught in the rictus of dance.
The tattered locks dangle like moss,
the loincloth’s tourniquet-tight,
the downcast expression has shut
against this world and the next.

How much distance do we need
to impose on the Renaissance
to escape it? The varnish gleams
with confidence. Surely it’s not
the original finish the artist

applied with quiet satisfaction.
Surely some atheist intervention
polished this object to appear
rich enough to deny itself.
But the shadow doesn’t lie.

Guided by naked intuition,
the curator placed this crucifix
so the light would cast this comment
in deep exclamatory mode.
Even doubters like me can’t doubt

the extra dimension imposed
by the gray border of this ultra
black shadow. Although this painted
Jesus can’t look behind him
to note the bottomless dark,

he must feel slightly comforted
by confounding the illusion
of two-dimensional painting
from which in the secular world
no vital essence escapes.