AFTER I READ YOUR POEM
After I read your poem, the winning one,
I nearly felt it not quite till it drifted away, a bit of smoke, a vapor, the snaking from a grill.
You know that poem: square and spare,
hitting the right note.
Yet I never swallowed it,
I never felt it never run out of the corners of my mouth—
all ghost and no substance, leaving no stain nor mark.
Don’t get me wrong.
Yes I love that the woods and flowers and bird calls touch me. No, it wasn’t your lack of perfect words for pretty pictures:
but I agree with Gide:
Art is a collaboration between God and the artist,
and the less the artist does the better.
What, then? When I read your poem, for me, all the stuff of life –the hard and tough stuff that sticks to me,
the greasiness of it all— it was untouched.
Later when I asked my painter friend about it, about art, about us,
about her award-winning painting of trees which wasn’t soft and lovely:
there were dead trees whose hard logs lay across a
hard and dark ground in a deep, old pine forest barren of rugged underbrush.
“Why,” I asked, “did your painting win: why did its stark boldness gain the prize?” She hemmed apologetically before giving me:
“What I painted is the real item, not beauty.”
Yes, Isn’t it because we want the real thing?
We see beauty all the time,
but to show me the beauty where it’s self-evident, that’s demanding.
Good art is a training
of the heart on how to pick through what’s ordinary, to hold up, then hold out the extraordinary, and watch beams of light bounce off it.
I think that’s what he meant when Schumann said he wanted
to send light into the darkness of men’s hearts.
Matisse said he painted the “difference between things.”
Yes, I set your poem aside, but only because perhaps I know too much of the darkness.