Painting the School Outing

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Painting the School Outing
Beaver Pond, Mactaquac

The yellow of the school bus is easy, but
what colors do you give the rain of school
kids descending? And how do you portray
their energy, their noise, the tones of French
and English? What colors are their vowels,
their consonants, their high-pitched voices?

You can sketch their orderly rows as they snack
on the top-hat magic pulled out of backpacks.
But it’s not so easy to paint the pop of Pepsi cans,
the scent of chocolate bars, or the crackle of chips
released from packets and popped into mouths.

Running round after lunch, they drive the wild
birds wild with their unorganized games of tag,
their impromptu dances, their three-legged races,
their winners and losers, their joys and sorrows.
Fishing nets are produced from nowhere. Girls,
boys wander to water’s edge in search of prey:
incipient frogs, newts, tadpoles, bullheads, but
how do you paint the wet and wriggle of them?

Try painting this. Whistles sound. Kids regroup.
The bus reloads and goes. Now paint the silence.
Sketch the tranquility of woods, bird-calls back,
of the beaver pond with its lilies stretching their
green necks skywards towards a pale blue sky
where cotton clouds cluster together in celestial
flocks. A pastoral scene, this painter’s paradise.

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Full Moon Over KIRA

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Full Moon Over KIRA

Who shall dredge this midnight moon
from the shoals of Passamaquoddy Bay?
Gaunt the moon-rakers’ faces, harsh their hands
hauling on nets, heaving her up, rippled and dimpled,
blunt her bite as she emerges from submersion,
raked from water in the traditional ritual.

Upside down, these reflected clouds,
as bright as full-moon fishing boats
distorted from below as the night wind
blows clean dry bones across a mirrored sky
where shadow fish fly wet with moonshine.

Oh pity her, you people, as she’s dragged
from her element and exposed to air and oxygen
that will slowly kill her, make her fade,
frail and fragile, not meant for this world of rock
and stone, flower and field, but destined to walk
in heavenly meadows or to rest in the shallows
where she rocks to sleep in the sea’s endless cradle.

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Monet at Giverny

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Monet at Giverny

Day’s executioner stripes evening
across the sacrificed horizon.
In blood he was born, in earth
will he rest his flesh, turning it into bread.
Purple this imperial wine streaming with day’s
death, ruffling these troubled waters.

Green footprints, the lily pads.
A halo, this drowned man’s beard,
liquescent. Like the gods, he dreamed
he walked dry on water.
Stepping stones, these goldfish
flowering beneath this thin line of cloud.

Maples flash ruby thoughts that ripple
outwards, waves cast upon a liquid sky
towards what farther shores?

Wisteria blesses him with its curly blue locks.
Narcissus, he clads himself in an abyss of lilies,
imperial, his reflection, and imperiled.
Slowly he slides to sleep, merging into his dream:
a vaulted cathedral, his earthbound ribs,
the blood space immaculate.

His lily pond turns into a fallen mirror,
shattering as it ripples in the breeze.
Shards of clouds flare like flames. Fractured
fish, red and gold, shelter beneath white lilies.

Night and day, sun and moon, leapfrog
over tranquil water. Something always survives:
sepia tints, old photos, dreaming on and on.

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Monet at Kingsbrae

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Monet at Kingsbrae

Clos Normand and the Grande Allée closed to him.
Folded his flowers, their petals tight at his nightfall.
Dark their colours, in mourning for his mornings
of light, fled far from him now, left way back behind.

The Lady of the Garden holds out her hand, hands him
an apple: l’offrande du coeur. A scarlet heart of flame
and his world regenerates in roses and in tulips. Especially
when the dying sun pours molten fire on a crimson lake.

The limpid sky brims over into low clouds trapping
a slash of colour here, and there a tree, a fountain of gold.
If the sun is an apple blushing on a setting branch, the money
plant hangs silver-white of moonlight between fine-tuned fingers.
When it rattles its seeds, coins blunt the moon’s sharp edge,
clouds weep, and earth is eclipsed by nickels and dimes.

The breeze bowls clean dry bones across the sky. Wind of change:
that first fast bite too bitter to remember and timeless this tide,
this ebb and flow, this great pond-serpent coiled around the tree,
devouring both tail and tale, dictating itself to death, forever.

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Hollyhock

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Still Life with Hollyhock
for
Geoff Slater
the inventor of line painting

How do you frame this beaver pond,
those paths, those woods? How do you
know what to leave, what to choose?
Where does light begin and darkness end?

Up and down: two dimensions. Easy.
But where does depth come from?
Or the tactility, the energy, water’s
flow, that rush of breathless movement
that transcends the painting’s stillness?

So many questions, so few answers.
The hollyhock that blooms in my kitchen
is not a real hollyhock. It is the painting
of a photo of a genuine flower that once
upon a time flourished in my garden.

A still life, then, a nature morte, a dead
nature, portrayed in paint and hung alive,
on display in this coffin’s wooden frame.

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Mountain Ash

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Mountain Ash

Honey sweet bark drilled by beaks
bleeds the rowan’s life away.
Who do we kill: bird or tree?

Decision made, the sap-suckers,
claws trapped in sackcloth, fluff
their feathers, leave their feast.

Red beads on the mountain ash:
a rosary of bright berries.

Bitter on the tongue, sunset’s
first flourish tinting my dream.

Midnight gnaws at the moon.
Its white skull drifts, a stone knife,
sharpened, in the sky’s iron hand.

At shadowed garden’s shallow
edge, the sorbus aucuparia bends,
its spirit walking night’s waters.

Nochebuena

IMG0034_1.jpg
Poinsettia is called nochebuena in Oaxaca.
It also means ‘Christmas Eve’ in Spanish.

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Nochebuena

Nochebuena / Christmas Eve:
last year, a star fell down the chimney
and landed on the poinsettia.
The cat and the dog stood up to deliver
new versions of their Christmas vision.
Birch bark: ghosts on the snow bank turned
white in the moonlight as they danced,
so slender and so bright.

This year an obsidian knife
hacks through my mind
slicing it into two uneven pieces.
Snowflakes invade its split personality.
Thin ice spreads across glacial fires.
Incarcerated birds sing deep in my rib cage.
A child’s world: with its lost toys lies
buried beneath fresh snow.

Tears freeze in my eyes,
drip from my eyelashes,
and fall to the earth as stars.
Soon I will be an enormous sunflower,
trapped in this wet clay rag of a body.

If I sit here in silence
will the world, like a garden
growing wild, go on without me?
The flowers in my yard close
their mouths and refuse to answer.

Passerines

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Passerines

Light dances and reduces spring’s snow.
Tiny white islands float in a rising tide of green.

The late spring sun carves charcoal lines of shadow.
What remains of the winter is no longer smooth,
but dimpled and wrinkled,
glowing with a million tiny dots of color.

Dew point: occasional snowflakes
float down — feathered parachutes.

Dots of refracted sunshine spin out from the sun-
powered crystals that turn in my window.
They cut through the heavy air that the hyacinths
weight with their redolence.

The soft white flowers of the cyclamen
respond to the dancing points of light,
the curved edges of its leaves soak up the sun.

Returning passerines jostle and shove,
greedy to approach the feeder.

They are random, like thoughts,
flighty, and totally untamable.

Grosbeaks

Light dances and reduces spring’s snow.
Tiny white islands float in a rising tide of green.

The late spring sun carves charcoal lines of shadow.
What remains of the winter is no longer smooth,
but dimpled and wrinkled,
glowing with a million tiny dots of color.

Dew point: occasional snowflakes
float down — feathered parachutes.

Dots of refracted sunshine spin out from the sun-
powered crystals that turn in my window.
They cut through the heavy air that the hyacinths
weight with their redolence.

The soft white flowers of the cyclamen
respond to the dancing points of light,
the curved edges of its leaves soak up the sun.

Grosbeaks, greedy for sunflower seeds,
jostle, shove, and push, to establish
their pecking order at the picnic table.

They are random, like thoughts,
flighty, and totally untamable.

Comment: What’s in a name? Change the birds and the poem changes. The same poem? Or is it? Does only the title change? I’ll let you decide. Do you have a preference? Please tell me.

Sharp-Shin

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Sharp-Shin

She surveys her empire
from our back porch
steps into space
plunges her body’s weight
into fragile air.

A feathered arrow,
she makes contact, feet first,
bowling the unsuspecting robin
over on the ground.
His shrill shriek emerges
from a beak shredding failing air.

The hawk’s claws clench.
Her victim’s movements weaken,
eyes gaze into darkness.

One final spasm,
a last quick twitch,
and the robin is gone,
one wing dragging,
borne skywards
in the hawk’s claws.

Monet at Giverny

Monet at Giverny

1

his lily pond
a mirror shattering

shards of clouds

flames beneath the lilies
fractured fish

2

the executioner stripes evening
across the sacrificed horizon

in blood we were born
 in earth will we rest
our flesh turned to bread

empurpled this imperial wine
streaming with day’s death
 these troubled waters

3

green footprints
the lily pads
a halo
this drowned man’s beard
liquescent

like the gods
he dreamed
he walked dry
on water

flowering goldfish
this thin line of cloud

4

maples flash ruby thoughts
ripples flowing outwards

as heavy as a stone at Stonehenge
this altar tumbling downwards
through a liquid sky

5

wisteria and his curly blue locks
Narcissus clad in an abyss of lilies
imperial his reflection and perilous

slowly he slides to sleep
merging into his imaged dream

a vaulted cathedral
his earthbound ribs
the blood space immaculate

6

night and day and sun and clouds
leapfrogging over water

something survives
sepia tints
dreaming on and on

exotic this sudden movement
Carassius auratus flowering

7

Clos Normand and the Grande Allée
closed to him now
folded his flowers
their petals tight at his nightfall

dark their colours
mourning for his mornings of light
fled far from him now

8

can we soften this sunstroke of brightness
le roi soleil threatening to blind us?

rey de oros
the sun glow braiding itself
an aureate palette

a susurration of leaves

9

the lady of the lake
holding out her hand
handing him an apple

l’offrande du Coeur
 a scarlet heart of flame

monochromatic this island
brown earth in a crimson lake
the world reborn in tulips

10

Especially
 when the dying sun

molten fire spreading
a limpid light
sky brimming over into pond

trapped in low clouds
a slash of colour here
and there a tree
a fountain of gold

the sun an apple
blushing
on a setting branch

11

silver-white the money plant
moonlight between fine-tuned fingers
its rattle of seeds

blunt the moon’s bite
raked from water
gaunt its gesture

twin ripples
face to face
with the moon

12

upside down these clouds
bright in their winter boats

the night wind blows
clean dry bones
across the sky

13

fish aloft like birds
skimming wet sunshine

spring’s first swallow
rising from the depths
to snatch a golden note
quivering in the air

14

thunder raises dark ripples

lightning a forked tongue
insinuated into paradise

an apple tossed away
caution thrown over the shoulder
as sharp as salt

15

winds of change

that first bite
too bitter to remember

16

timeless this tide
this ebb and flow

oh great pond-serpent

biting yourself
forever