Friday, February 6

Theory of Incompletion

I'm painting the apartment, elaborate project,
edging doorways and bookcases,

two coats at least, and on the radio
—the cable opera station—something
I don't know, Handel's Semele,

and either it's the latex fumes or the music itself
but I seem never to have heard anything so radiant,

gorgeous rising tiers of it
ceasing briefly then cascading again,
as if baroque music were a series of waterfalls

pouring in the wrong direction, perpetually up
and up, twisting toward the empyrean.

When a tenor—playing the role of a god,
perhaps the god of art?—calls for unbridled joy
the golden form of his outburst

matches the solar confidence of its content,
and I involuntarily say, ah,

I am so swept up by the splendor,
on my ladder, edging the trim
along the crown molding, up where

the fumes concentrate. I am stroking
the paint onto every formerly white inch,
and of course I know Semele will end,

but it doesn't seem it ever has to:
this seemingly endless chain of glorious conclusions,

writhing stacked superb filigree
—let it open out endlessly,
let door after door be slid back

to reveal the next cadence,
the new phrasing, onward and on.

I am stilled now, atop my ladder,
leaning back onto the rungs, am the rapture
of denied closure, no need to go anywhere,

entirety forming and reasserting itself, an endless
—self-enfolding, self-devouring—

of which Handel constructs a model
in music's intricate apportionment
of minutes. And then there's barely a beat

of a pause before we move on to Haydn,
and I am nowhere near the end of my work.

-- Mark Doty, from fire to fire

Mark Doty