LANDSCAPE WITH PROTESTERS ON ONE SIDE, POLICE ON THE OTHER, A PASTURE IN BETWEEN
And in the middle of the pasture
this colossal rolled haystack—
three stories high, I’d estimate, if we
compare its size to either group,
and painted at such an angle that
we can see only one circular end,
the tightly wound wheat in fine
spirals of goldenrod and ochre
that gradually turns a pale lemon
the closer it reaches the upper
rim, where the sun hits it. But
what’s that black butterfly shape
in the center of the haystack?
Some have argued that it is
simply a butterfly, nothing else,
but I have never seen one
with wings like that, in person
or pixels or print. It’s obvious
what it is. You only have to
close the space between you
and the canvas to see, yes, these
are sneaker bottoms, these are
treads, patterns that don’t exist
in nature. This is man-made.
There must be a person—
a body—still wearing these shoes
or else they’d fall to the ground.
A body rolled inside a haystack
is what we’re looking at. A body
one side placed in there,
in a place we’ve been before, a place
we keep coming back to, over
and over and over and over
the haystack rolls, pulling our world
out from under us.
LANDSCAPE WITH ABANDONED PICNIC AND FLAMES
The checkered blanket is on fire. The wicker
basket is on fire. And the grass. And that elm tree.
And that other elm tree, further back, whose trunk
is swaddled in fluorescent orange, yellow that is almost
white, the shade below the leafy branches
replaced with blazing. How did this happen?
you might ask, since the artist isn’t here to say.
But don’t we know already, given the artist is
American? Given the year we’re living in? Oh—
the year we’re living in. Always in the foreground
of my mind. This slow unraveling. These familiar
flames. The wooden table is on fire. And that vehicle
pluming in the background, as the painting
continues to burn, drips and blisters, and together
we watch from a good distance, we step back and
step back as the wall from which the painting hangs
blackens, as the conflagration takes over, and we
move again—out of the exhibit, out into
the public, seemingly safe.
—from Poets Respond
June 7, 2020