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  • Fear of Heights, and: Anna Kuerner, and: Seafarer
  • Catherine Staples (bio)

Fear of Heights

After Andrew Wyeth's "Widow's Walk"

A widow's walk will go to your head like the sight of a formerboyfriend pulling up in a two-toned Alpha—sunglassesand a baseball cap, he patiently waits while you study his face.Recent history you can't know, but might intuit, beaten upsome by previous inhabitants, still you remember.Twenty years or more, the patina's all glint and shiver.It's the wind from the sea makes you light-headed, inclinedto break like a floe far to the north, present selfsheared loose from youth. What you have in mindis nothing, walking around the porch to the back door,the half-filled lemonade pitcher spilling phlox.The latch unhitches to the drop of a thumband summer rushes out with a long-held breath. How easilysheets fly off the wicker—chairs, tables, dining set,a summer writing desk. Like the arrival of guests from all doorsat once, the empty room is busy again breathing in the sea. [End Page 30] You try one door, then another quick as the mother of pearlspill of buttons, then you are there in the stairwell looking upinto the impossibly bright lines of light edging the hatch.With a shoulder and palm it'll heave loose—already the salt air, the unguessed dimensions swayingin wind. The real weight of the door and the sheerwhite of the height, like sun flashing dizzily over the waves,the bright likes of which once caused a boy to fall to the sea.

Anna Kuerner

After Andrew Wyeth's "Ground Hog Day"

The painter who wanders your house night and day,sketches and paints his way in and out your back door,kitchen, barn, and milking room, he's erased all traceof you. Look, even your favorite tea cup, the onethat's snug to the curl of your forefinger, even that's gonebleached white as bones, something a dream tossed back.The print has disappeared from the china rim—no moreapple bloom or trumpet vine vining a smooth weave.Even the color erased—no more grey green, salt blue, faintas any wave glimpsed from distance. Day after dayhe paints you and the dog sleeping—shut eye, wolfishset to his jaw, then the bunchbacked skittery quick.But in the end, the dog disappears as you do.Cup, knife, plate. His fangs menace from the rough cutlog beyond the open window. And you? Are you the stripof light glancing the wall, the obstinate refusal to quitor give in? It was your hands set the table, raked the grate,chopped firewood far side of the pines. Is it your quiet [End Page 31] the painter caught? The long slow place before the scrapeof a gate lifted from its hinges and your husband strides infresh from New Holland, rushed talk of horses, calves, and tractorgusts the room like an unseen wind, then settles to the porcelainchink and domestic sing of knife on a dinner plate.


After Andrew Wyeth's "Adrift"

That's Walt Anderson napping in the narrow berthof the slim-hulled skiff, arms folded neat as a bishopacross his chest. All the warmth of mid-day settlesinto the ribbed place. Lift the seat boards, slip the oars—it's like being a cloud in the wind's swift carry,tossed around, blown about and all the while sunbeats warmth on grizzled beard and cheek.I don't remember when it started—this odd habit of hisafternoon naps in the belly of his boat—when we were young,I suppose. Long summer nights he'd be out on the bay.Often enough we'd feel our way along the lines,hand over hand, the careful haul, seawater spilt like light,phosphorescent rills gushing through slats. Lobster and crayfish,now and then the odd catch: sailor's button in a flush of seaweed,a wayward perch. Some nights we'd light fires on the beach—driftwood blaze and late supper...


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pp. 30-33
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