- To Joan Mitchell*
At twilight the locusts begin, waves and waves, nothing to do with lamentation.
No one’s told them the world is ending; they proceed as always, everything subsumed into—
you can’t call it a cry, exactly, no singularity in it, but the thousands, the ten thousand —voices?
Not singing. Audible undulation, the waves these bodies make. Seamless, encompassing, filling Branard Street—
As it should be. I want them not knowing, in this way the sound becomes a kind of refuge, filled with safety and splendor. [End Page 87]
Or it’s more like the big sound puts its hands under your arms and elevates you, effortless, gyrating momentum pulls one upward with it, collective ululation having become a unified rising motion
like her great canvas in four panels, continuous field so charged as to fill the room in which it hangs with an inaudible humming,
as if to erase the gallery over which it triumphs.
Almost audible: weft of continuous color, blocks of mint, green-yellow glaze, olive
floating above a violet underpainting, contentious
against the citron and yellow-flung, seamless texture,
like the hare of the cicadas, ceaseless music through which outbreaks of blue
assert themselves. As if she’d made the human equivalent of their spiraling, and this was faith.
No trust ever held in constancy
—only what’s relinquished over and over [End Page 88] has about it the heft of the genuine—
The canvas firmly centered in its living, drenched, upright posture of its color—
the authority of her green
more firmly itself than anyone in the room—
In the flashpoint summer of 2002 it was possible to feel where we were headed,
sun screwing its titanium compress down on human foreheads in the parking lots,
thin tamarisks on the margin shimmering a little as if seen through fumes of gasoline,
and I was in the absolute darkness of Fresno, past the middle of my life. As if I’d been colonized
by the long swatches of car lots, flapping pennants stunned under the mercury lamps,
will and inwardness thinned like the chemical haze over the lettuce fields,
smokes risen from torn-up vineyards, weary vines heaped for burning…
Then a guy in a leather bar—wisdom itself I swear in an ordinary, bearded face—
held my right hand and stared down into the contradictory fretwork, drawn
to me and not going home with me, nothing as simple as that, [End Page 89]
though we were two spiked intensities of pulse and aura, he was holding back
an enormous force of perception, translating the lines in my palm, and he said
to me the one possible thing I’d believe: Sometimes you just have to make
a little faith. That fountaining canvas, expanse of presence in the museum room,
organized and intensified vitality, ineradicable in spite of the new void we’ve made
looming everywhere over the vineyards and shopping centers and car lots from here
to Houston to New York City, relentless, locked in, poised to erase. The picture spoke its green. [End Page 90]
Mark Doty, who teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston, won the 2008 National Book Award for Poetry for his Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems. He is author of eight collections of poems and four volumes of nonfiction prose, one of which, Dog Years, was a 2007 New York Times best seller.
* Reprinted from Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems (NY: HarperCollins, 2008) with permission of HarperCollins. Copyright © 2008 Mark Doty.