Washington Square — New York, 1941

When Edward Hopper finishes his painting for the night,
sets the boar bristles to soak in turpentine, wipes the thick
not-yet-crusted-over drips from his smock with a blue rag
and tips his palette up to incubate tomorrow’s luck,

he isn’t thinking of the greenish light from a street lamp,
how it hits plate glass and fractures through it, or the counter’s
corner in an all-night city diner. Most of the time
he is just hungry, already smelling the stew his wife

likes to make from white beans and bacon. His eyes lose focus, 
and his other senses — so long ignored in deference
to saturated color — come alive, more vivid now 
because of their confinement. How clear the little click as

the lamp’s wick sinks below its silver mouth, scratch of bootheels
on the tile stair when he descends. He inhales the evening,
the butcher’s bloody work, stale malt that drifts from a window.
The snowy world receives him: flakes melt and run down his cheeks.

More by Molly Fisk

Particulate Matter

If all you counted were tires on the cars left in driveways and stranded beside the roads.
Melted dashboards and tail lights, oil pans, window glass, seat belt clasps.
The propane tanks in everyone's yards, though we didn't hear them explode.

R-13 insulation. Paint, inside and out. The liquor store's plastic letters in puddled
colors below their charred sign. Each man-made sole of every shoe in all those closets.
The laundromat's washers' round metal doors.

But then Arco, Safeway, Walgreens, the library—everything they contained.
How many miles of electrical wire and PVC pipe swirling into the once-blue sky:
how many linoleum acres? Not to mention the valley oaks, the ponderosas, all the wild

hearts and all the tame, their bark and leaves and hooves and hair and bones, their final
cries, and our neighbors: so many particular, precious, irreplaceable lives that despite
ourselves we're inhaling.

Summer Lightning

In the morning while it's still cool
we hose down the yard, watch a red sun
crest the ridge, haloed in wildfire smoke
that drifted 200 miles and stalled
here against the mountains.

A house fly is walking across the table,
six tiny feet leaving tracks in the yogurt.
One cat has already eaten a hummingbird.
If you think about joy long enough,
maybe death will make sense:

a matter of balance. The deer caught
in that fire outside Redding, the rabbits
and bear cubs, king snakes, and you know
when 30 boats melt at anchor in Whiskeytown,
fish in that lake have perished.

Displaced blue herons, mergansers.
I am not asking forgiveness
for the hummingbird. I plant the flowers
and water them — who else would come
for their nectar? And what cat wouldn't leap

at the chance? In this world there is order
wherever you look: cause, effect, logic,
consequence. A dry winter, and a car backfire
or summer lightning ignites just one branch,
which bends in the wind the flames create

to brush another. A few hours later
it's 45 square miles and uncontained.
The fire jumps the river after supper
headed downtown and cars crawl away
from their homes in a dark lit by headlights

and flung sparks, chased by the crackle
and gathering roar, song of a small city burning.

Singing Canyon Sonnet

I have to say something about the blue grasses by the side of the road,
the red rock rising behind them, a lacy kind of scrub juniper,
yellow-green in afternoon light, dotted here and there up the broken slope

and walls scraped sheer, the red striated with bars of gold and brown.
I have to tell how two greasy ravens startled from their perch
made a raucous noise in the slot canyon. Their cries bounced upward

magnified by a hundred where I had just been singing Amazing Grace
and they had not stirred, the only hymn whose verses I reliably remember.
My boots raised puffs of fine red dust behind me walking back to the car.

I should mention that the aspen leaves were thumbnail-sized and vivid,
that anvil clouds quickly overtook the sun, that before I saw those thirty-seven
white-tailed deer I was feeling unbearably lonely and I might as well confess

how acutely I miss the man I left at home even though I drove
two thousand miles away from him to figure out which one of us to love.