He was painting the sky. Not painting images of sun and clouds on canvas—no, slapping paint across the sky itself. It was a painting en plein air on plain air.

There was a theory behind it, of course, a theory so big it didn’t matter anymore, a map the size of the territory.

Go tell it to the birds, he would say. But the birds didn’t care. They were flying nonchalantly through the sky, and he would paint them, too, the redbirds blue and the bluebirds red.

Of course, the paint would drip everywhere. But didn’t it always? That’s what the rag was for, and the little blade. As someone said: If art was not difficult, it would not be art.

The critics hadn’t found the right word for it yet. Not exactly realism, and not quite surrealism—not even subrealism. But he couldn’t wait for the critics to make up their minds. He just kept painting, while the sun was out.

At the end of the day, his work was done. He put away his paints, and the sun put itself away, and the clouds likewise. It was so dark he couldn’t see the grass around his feet, no longer green but a ground of many colors, still wet, like some kaleidoscope of dew.

Ah, what would he paint tomorrow? A seascape? He thought of the water, wave after wave, and his small brush dabbling in the shallows, stroking out into the deep.

Copyright © 2018 Elton Glaser. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Winter 2018.

When Beauty and Beauty meet
   All naked, fair to fair,
The earth is crying-sweet,
   And scattering-bright the air,
Eddying, dizzying, closing round,
   With soft and drunken laughter;
Veiling all that may befall

Where Beauty and Beauty met,
   Earth’s still a-tremble there,
And winds are scented yet,
   And memory-soft the air,
Bosoming, folding glints of light,
   And shreds of shadowy laughter;
Not the tears that fill the years

This poem is in the public domain. 

Say not of Beauty she is good,
Or aught but beautiful,
Or sleek to doves’ wings of the wood
Her wild wings of a gull.

Call her not wicked; that word’s touch
Consumes her like a curse;
But love her not too much, too much,
For that is even worse.

O, she is neither good nor bad,
But innocent and wild!
Enshrine her and she dies, who had
The hard heart of a child.

This poem is in the public domain. 

Painting is a person placed
between the light and a
canvas so that their shadow
is cast on the canvas and
then the person signs their
name on it whereas poetry
is the shadow writing its
name upon the person.

From I Am Flying into Myself: Selected Poems 1960-2014 by Bill Knott, edited by Thomas Lux. Copyright © 2017 by The Estate of Bill Knott.  Reprinted/Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.