I believed in seeing a painting in person, after years of reproductions. Was I “passionate” or just naïve? In Braids nothing happens. In Wyeth’s Braids there is only each piece of hair, known intimately by God and the painter, strand and strand brought in to hold its own turning. High school art history and it beats across the screen, mote-mottled, projection-sized—years later I drove three days to stand here. This is where he stood, arm’s length from the canvas. This is Maine at the end of April; tomorrow it snows, and we watch an old man march into the ocean, submerge himself, walk out and shake it off. Why, standing at Braids, can I think not of this painting, but of approaching Press 40, the day after graduating high school, and what conspires to make the plant foreman start me at Press 40, of 44 presses? What does Wyeth [End Page 88] have to do with graveyard shift making dashboards except for fathers and concentration? The guy at 39 has sleeves of scar tissue, a purple luminescence poorly stitched on. Number 40 is the largest machine in the state. I know because my father built it. It slows my work to realize: have I seen this before, in dream? Drafting table, white lines on blue paper, the ghost of it emerging with each revision. He brought me here as a kid to explain how it worked, describe the tonnage, the many men it took. My father who was, at that moment, asleep, who I would pass in the kitchen this morning, on my way to bed, on his way here, to see how I did and if they need anything— replacement parts or adjustments. So I came to the far edge of a continent, so I walked through the field from Christina’s World— Why save any of this from the fire? Dear Origin Myth, are you in art history class or night shift hours sanding the rough edges of dashboards? I was there as a way of apologizing, but no one heard it amid the din, no one noticed such a gesture in the filing away of excess plastic. In Braids she stands alone in a cold, dark room, looking away. Someone is calling [End Page 89] but it doesn’t break her spell. They’ve been calling forever but they don’t know her name. The house is empty and quiet. This is the story of your life. [End Page 90]
Craig Beaven’s poems appear or are forthcoming in Third Coast, Carolina Quarterly, Cutbank, Southern Humanities Review, and other journals. His work was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize.