Sunday, October 10

Location of the Question: Seurat's Ile de la Grande Jatte

He sat before the canvas and asked it, "What is beauty?"
As once he lay on his back to ask the oak, "What is a mind?"
He inquired of the paint, and of the palette behind it.
As once he questioned the oak and the wind threading its leaves.
He believed then that when a tree says hush it doesn't mean it.
He sensed that sensation in art was a penny-ante value.
The oak swept aside his words, and no answer could be detected.
Even if it was called for, if it was truly desired, if he couldn't live without it.
And the black that was not black but Seurat's black defied his eye.
His head above water in the wet air, and the tree throwing out lifelines.
Slap of leaf, scent of cut grass, time and a weed to chew on.
Wait, was he not by the river as others had been pictured by water?
In a mood to ape nature, not to copy but to imitate.
Nights, the leftover nostalgia of dusk smearing the horizon.
Mornings, a leftover moon in which to read the future.
Oh, I confuse myself with myself, now with then, and who spoke.
I imagine myself Seurat and try, and fail, to paint it as he did.
Natural when young to think the leaves whisper.
To suppose that the artists are helpless before the sublime.
Inevitable in youth to believe they tell you their secrets.
And the animals, what are they thinking, is it thought?
Ineffably, the deer stare into your soul before they spook.
The homely groundhog, hastening to cross, looks down in acknowledgment.
While a painting that hugs a century oozes with its lost past.
That to its maker was mote and color--timely, methodical.
A rage to do things others cannot, to make them see it your way.
So I too walked with my neck bent, looking at my shoes.
That is how I came to stay up late to see the moon pale.
The night as I write this is a shadow that will pass, is passing.
And the wild owls my pets, where are they tonight?
They do not question perception, they hunt in the dark.
Have they gone back in time to hoot at that boy I was?
Do they object to his spending his days talking to a tree?
In the belly of its shadow, his face aglow?
We always see something, the owls and I.
The deer at the roses, the fox in the headlights, the bats in distress.
His favorites were the oak and maple, but mine are the willow, the ash and the scruffy box elder.
He grew up is all, and saw that beauty is a sop to terror.
He saw like you that we are but do not know yet what it means to be.
Spring's profusion is blinding to wide eyes.
It was warm and wet, and the leaves dripped ink into his veins.

-- Marvin Bell