( Lines on the life and works of Edvard Munch, born 12th December 1863, died 23rd January 1944 )
Your sick sister.
The doctor left her.
Tuberculosis, his diagnosis.
You knew, however.
It wrenched from you your mother
when you were younger.
Stiff on her chair
with her dropped head.
World to ignore her.
Your sick sister,
her irises red,
her head heavy on the pillow.
Hectic lines on the walls.
Daylight too bright, had to curtain the window.
What else could you do
but work with your tools,
the craft of the painter?
Her face strokes of pale white on the canvas,
her clothes black smudges.
The room bare, no life could be lived there.
The death of your mother,
your sister, your father,
the death of your own life
that waited ahead.
Your study of dancers,
both living and dead.
You painted the skull headed phantom,
its mouth torn wide open,
hands too thin to give its ears shelter,
tortured by the scream
that cut through the cold bones,
the dried veins of nature.
The Duchess of Alba
That’s how they were then.
They’ll never be that way again.
These portraits on the walls.
They were real people.
The Duchess of Alba by Goya.
She was real.
She is gone but her portrait remains.
We cannot get back there.
Locked in our time, as she was locked in her time,
we are ruled by the pendulum.
But we can be still.
Attend to now.
Forget our life and time.
Consider the brush work on canvas,
colour, shadow, light and line.
Think of them.
When not posing for portraits
by painters like Goya, what did they do?
It seems they hunted, rode, travelled,
had children, wore jewels, entertained,
followed fashion, feared revolution,
looked after their estates.
Painters and poets have this in common,
thought Goya, when they study nature,
they seek for its essence.
In those who posed for him,
he sought for the lamp lit within,
that animated character,
sculptured spirit and skin,
and if he found none,
that must be captured, too,
the void must be faced.
World mask carved itself,
layer by layer,
revealed one constant,
a dual nature,
half harper, half harlequin,
half holy one, half demon,
half shark, half dolphin,
half maiden, half dragon,
half ram, half lion,
half Abel, half Cain,
half Moses, half Pharaoh,
half Messiah, half Caesar,
half judge, half hangman,
half emperor, half hermit,
half kingfisher, half vulture,
half swan, half crocodile.
No tools, no engines, no blasts
could remove the mask.
The revealed face cannot be imagined.
No one could conjure its name.
Clyde the Conversational Clam
Clyde the conversational clam
was philosophic, ocean deep,
liked to pose such questions as:
why do gasteropods cling to sleep?
and, what is water and why is there so much of it?
Fellow shell fish had no answer,
being mute as molluscs, limited as limpets,
blessed with barely barnacle wit,
but a few of his listeners, he stimulated,
like Octavian the octopus, Kronus the crab,
but some sea urchins wished he would be silent,
got self encrusted on a lobster pot and hauled away,
that his talkative stream would find its dam,
that in an oyster his voice could be hid.
Many folk of fin and scale agreed.
Felix the formidable squid certainly did.
The Ambitious Poet
A monument of twenty first century poetry,
such was the work he wished to create,
leave behind, after his unavoidable death,
acknowledged as such by the literary elite,
the professors of literature, high brow literary critics,
the snooty guardians of wilful, erudite obscurity.
After much mulling, he decided that an attempt
at such a work would be fake, not sincere,
so he carried on writing poems in the way he usually did.
Bird spring song, printed on the air,
pitched too fine and high for attempts at translation.
It is heard in notes not words, that is why.
Is music not speech, signals not conversation.
Still, as a playful test, I attend to one bird,
piping outside my window, in the bush behind the shed,
and try to translate its song into human tongue:
Marga-reet, Marga-reet, join me here, it seems to say.
Your singing lesson is due.
Come, quick as a gull flies after a fish.
I cannot cancel your singing lesson.
Come to me, promptly, speedily.
Converse with me, in my tubular song space.
I never ask for much, please grant my wish.
Rejoice with me in this fresh time
of nest building, chick feeding.
Marga-reet, cherish the choral way we always had.
Summer soon, long winter gone.
Spring brings our kin of feather and wing
to flutter and sing on the wind ways.
Add your notes to our knitted song screen.
Marga-reet, hear my call.
I am impatient to chirp beside your lovely form.
Universal unison, eternal essence,
I sing in the cleansed air.
Our twittering, chattering lines have no conclusion.
Winter’s great grandfather wisdom
buds in the green brain of the spring child,
born to grow to be the youth of summer,
who will mature to muse on wood and water,
clad in autumn’s leafy cloak.
The sky is clear, the air is icy.
The boat I steer has my faith.
It moves on, straight and steady.
The sea is calm, reflects my shadow.
I dream of shores and harbours,
what may swim the deep below.
Wanderer on the watery waste,
wind in my sail determines
when I may cruise or make haste.
Be it my wish or fault, I am here.
The stronger my spirit, the less I fear.
With the waves I drift and drift.
Crystal lamps the grey clouds shift.
From ocean dreams I will wake.
Another path I will take.