“The View from the Café” by Matt Quinn

Ekphrastic Challenge, October 2015: Editor’s Choice


Photograph by Ana Prundaru
Photograph by Ana Prundaru. “The View from the Café” was written by Matt Quinn for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, October 2015, and selected by Timothy Green as the Editor’s Choice winner.

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Matt Quinn


Six men haul a jet ski out of a placid sea
that’s flashing cream-soda in the evening sun;
they drag it up onto the beach and cover it
in a shroud of plastic. And Paul says:

I think that in some way we are all refugees
and leaves it hanging there in the salty breeze.
So Jane steps in and tells of us of this dream she had
where the whole world was packed inside a giant coracle,

except really it was only thousands of people
that she saw, but in the dream she knew
it was the population of the whole planet crushed
together and drifting on an unending ocean

in a boat that might so easily tip over or break apart.
She says that seen from above the bright colours
of people’s ethnic clothing against the blue-green sea
made it all seem so beautiful it could have been a photo

in a Sunday magazine. We kick the metaphor about
for a while as Paul wanders off to buy the next round
of beers, and I store the image away just in case
there’s a poem I can slip it into later. Then John says

that surely we are all evicted from our homes
at birth, squeezed naked and defenceless
out into the cold and the clamour, the gate double-locked
behind us by an angel with a flaming sword.

We watch the men emerge from the sea a second time,
and Paul says that really, if you think about it,
we’ve been refugees ever since we first dragged
ourselves out of the ocean on makeshift limbs, choking

back the oxygen in our brand-new lungs. Meanwhile
I’m working on something clever to say about Heidegger’s
notion of unheimlichkeit and how, existentially
speaking, none of us is ever truly at home anywhere

in this world. Now the six men are back in the water
herding the third empty jet ski up onto its trailer.
Susan drains her beer and says she’s never seen a refugee
on a jet ski. I can’t tell if she’s bored of this game,

or is somehow trumping us all. We watch the sun sink
into the waiting sea, then Jane calls for the bill.
It’s cold on the beach, and no one’s brought a coat.
We finish up our drinks and head for home.

Ekphrastic Challenge, October 2015
Editor’s Choice Winner


Comment from the editor, Timothy Green: “I love the way that this poem turns the photograph into a vignette that we can all enter, as readers. There is something uncanny about the image, juxtaposed against recent newspaper photographs of Syrian refugees, and Quinn manages to articulate and then illuminate that uneasy feeling.”

Note: This poem has been published exclusively online as part of our monthly Ekphrastic Challenge, in which we ask poets to respond to an image provided by a selected artist. This October, the image was a photograph by Ana Prundaru. We received 115 entries, and the artist and Rattle’s editor each chose their favorite. Ana Prundaru’s choice was posted the previous Friday. For more information on the Ekphrastic Challenge visit its page. See other poets’ responses or post your own by joining our Facebook group.

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