To Jackson Pollock
Last night somebody murdered a young tree on Seventh Avenue
between 18th and 19th—only two in that block,
and just days ago we'd taken refreshment in the crisp and particular shade
of that young ginkgo's tight leaves, its beauty and optimism,
though I didn't think of that word until the snapped trunk this morning,
a broken broomstick discarded, and tell me what pleasure
could you take from that? Maybe I understand it,
the sudden surge of rage and the requirement of a gesture,
but this hour I place myself firmly on the side of thirst,
the sapling's ambition to draw from the secret streams
beneath this city, to lift up our subterranean waters.
Power in a pointless scrawl now on the pavement.
Pollock, when he swung his wild arcs in the barn-air
by Accabonac, stripped away incident and detail till all
that was left was swing and fall and return,
austere rhythm deep down things, beautiful
because he's subtracted the specific stub and pith,
this wreck on the too-hot pavement where scavengers
spread their secondhand books in the scalding sunlight.
Or maybe he didn't. Erase it I mean: look into the fierce ellipse
of his preserved gesture, and hasn't he swept up every bit,
all the busted and incomplete, half-finished and lost?
Alone in the grand rooms of last century's heroic painters
—granted entrance, on an off day, to a museum
with nobody, thank you, this once nobody talking—
and for the first time I understood his huge canvases
were prayers. No matter to what. And silent as hell;
he rode the huge engine of his attention toward silence,
and silence emanated from them, and they would not take no
for an answer, though there is no other. Forget supplication,
beseechment, praise. Look down
into it, the smash-up swirl, oil and pigment and tree-shatter:
tumult in equilibrium.
Copyright © by Mark Doty. Used with the permission of the author.