The primordial tensions of those natural forces.
Watch, as the massive waves surge forward, then back
out into the vast Atlantic, as if sucked into some blueblack
vortex, even as another wave and then another comes
crashing in to smash against the jagged granite shore.
The silver glitter spume explodes just feet away, as old
and now instant as that Whirlwind confronting Job.
How is it Homer caught the drama in his Northeaster,
just yards from that ructive cabin there on Prout’s
Neck along the coast of Maine back then? And now
the painting glowers in the cloisterlike environs
of the New York Met, replete with a sleepy guard.
Homer caught it all. Schoolkids playing crack
the whip in those fields outside some one-room
schoolhouse. Those three Confederate prisoners
surrendering at Petersburg, to be interrogated by
a Union officer, one a hillbilly kid, another an old
man lost, and that young rebel officer, hand on hip,
his steady sullen staring in defiance even now.
Then, later, those Southern whites and blacks
in those unforgiving years of Reconstruction, that white
mistress standing awkwardly by the door, not knowing what
to say to her former slaves, nor they to her. Or those English
working classes, the Bermuda natives among the sands
and palmettos, the dangers of the sea, the drifting boat
with a lone black man as sharks circle him
with a typhoon rising in the distance. And in time
even people disappear from his canvasses, and it’s
the sea alone the painter dwells on as at Creation’s start.
As with the poet who must face the blank canvas
of the page and stare and stare and stare again.
And then, if he is blessed (or cursed) a word
at last comes uttering forth. And then another
and another. And then a line, a force, a tension
felt between a gray, a cobalt blue, a green, a dash
of red, an orange dot and a smear of white to say
this is a painting. And then another swirl of white
as three waves spill, and then that giant wave
exploding, again, again, again, as the thing itself,
the real, comes crashing finally down on you.
From All That Will Be New (Slant Books, 2022) by Paul Mariani. Copyright © 2022 by Paul Mariani. Used with the permission of the author.