Sunday, 20 November 2011
Pictures, forms, families (4): the poem
Death, Survival, Persistence
Luke Fildes, The Doctor (1891)*
The robes, the cloth, the vase, the veil, the bow,
The posy, the leaves, the rising cloud, the lips.
These were ourselves, this is the cloth that slips
into shapes of cowls and hoods we cannot know.
We cannot decode ourselves. We move below
our surfaces, our griefs, our flowers, the tips
of our fingers. We know what it is that grips
the child in her numbed sleep, what winds still blow
about her. We put our ears to the cloud to hear
vibrations of the air, we measure our wrists
for pulse. We mist mirrors, move in our sleep
as if awake, make energies from fear
accumulated in our veins. We have made lists
of the dead. Our metaphors run deep.
Michael Andrews, as before
Floating is next to drowning
and though the metaphor of dark
is simply metaphor the metaphor is cold.
Look, our children float against the cold
and though we hold them against the dark
we know the sea’s own metaphors for drowning.
Those tender bubbles, sea-scum, illusion
of air, the clashing rocks that contain
the sea, they are our modes, our metaphors.
We cannot help but live through metaphors.
The bay contains the sea, the clashing rocks contain
our hands and bodies, our floating, our illusion
of floating, and our pale skin, pale warmth,
the metaphor of childhood we find ourselves
employing time and again, like love, like hands
that bear up bodies that terminate in hands.
Dear children you become almost ourselves –
the metaphorical sea’s notion of warmth.
My feet dissolve, my lower half in water.
Her face is strewn with hair, so we are joined
in this brief act, as brief as other acts,
as if water, drowning, floating, dark, were acts,
as if my life could float, steady and joined
to yours in the bay’s cold metaphors of water.
Thomas Struth: The Smith Family, Fife, Scotland 1989
What is it looks out of us
so wary, so contemplative against
the glass that keeps us from the world?
What is the glass against which we press
our faces, that looks back at us
with its own blank puzzled face?
We cannot solve it, our presence, our eyes,
though we are gathered, clannish, cloned
in attitudes of familial power.
We have made it as far as the room
in which we sit. The glass confirms
the room, our eyes confirm ourselves,
just as we are in 1989
the year history ended,
the moment, the glass, our eyes.
*The Fildes was in the exhibition but I knew it too well. I use it here instead of the Batoni that I cant find.