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ISSUE:  Winter 1977
     for Robin Fredenthal

It was this way from the beginning:
dreams of the sun in sunless places,
gold on the tip of the Dutch tongue,
flames pouring from damp corners morning’s
mist from the salt flats settles in,
moves into our garments with us,
half-lights and highlights softly raging
in the dim reaches of a room
forever vaguely past our reach
but only just past, could we know it,
where one would never hope to travel,
where one would never think to look.

On a long journey, once, to Naples
as a young man, needing refreshment
of the eye, of the other senses,
needing that knowledge of the sun
not given to most Dutchmen—blinding,
passionate, clear-eyed, all at once—,
heat-shimmer, hills, horizons, islands,
I was amazed, each day, to see them:
people perching on statues, benches,
at all hours crowding the streets,
jamming balconies, squares, each terrace
above the seawall, flocking to the
core of the city, bearing light
tenderly on their shoulders, not quite
ready to set it down until,
sighting great sloops riding at anchor,
assailed by dazzle from the harbor,
trading one blindness for another,
they knew what they had set it down for;
gesturing, eating, laughing, living
lives, in the glare of the piazza,
which we in Holland live indoors.

Once in the north again, haunted by
seepage of dusk across tiled floors,
the giving way of walls, of doors,
wanting the look of rooms where dazzle
has left its mark and then moved on,
has sung its song then chosen silence,
I was pursued by that one scene,
possessed by an interior
so temperate yet so intense,
so single-minded yet abstract,
it seemed the wind had rinsed it clean
of all impurities, leaving
behind a texture much like music,
chords in a dim suspension, half-notes
struck on an old guitar, suggesting
lemons had lent this air their light,
sixteen centuries of Dutch breathing
had come and gone within this room,
something refracted from the street
not light, not heat, but partly each
and partly something more, unnamed.

Interiors obsessed me: how to
say who we are, say how we live,
even, possibly, what our dreams are,
yet say nothing definitive;
despite the clarity of rooms
from which anarchy has been banished,
the deep perspective unimpeded,
have us remain ambiguous,
hint, even, of an inner life
from which that strange preoccupation
with lives as they are lived indoors
(interiors, at dusk, in flux,
gold on the tip of the Dutch tongue,
the unnamed burnished on the grate,
approaches, somewhere, to the evening)
might be, if one could see, deduced.

Profitless task, to be consumed
with questions of the middle distance,
proportion, light, angles of vision,
with an approach, somewhere, to evening
which will not have frightened it off.

A man in France, it seems, a painter,
arthritic, eighty, eighty-five,
epochs later would be compelled
one flawless morning, fields ablaze,
light insisting, as light insists,
the secret of all conflagration
lay just one canvas out of reach,
to bring himself to beg his wife
to strap him in a high-backed chair,
to lash the brushes to both wrists
so that he might pursue the light
a little longer, bear its fever
slowly, painfully, to the landscape,
in the bearing pronounce its name,
the nerve-ends in the great arms numb,
all power in the fingers gone,
the head, call it belief or madness,
burdened, still, with dreams of the sun.

Imagine giving that command.
Imagine splendor like that in a life,
asking, each morning, only to be strapped
tall in a straight-back chair, the paint-tubes
propped to be gripped between the teeth,
two well-worn leather bands, their buckles tarnished,
binding the pale reeds of an old man’s wrists
so that light not be frightened off, that, deftly,
approaches/ to the night somehow be risked.


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