The Beyond Black*
The shutters are closed.
I hear the wings of
a bird. Is it white, grey,
I ask for I did not know between monochrome and disappearing
existed such a miraculous place:
small Algerian lighthouse, keeper
in a sea of sleep.
We can for once speak without seeing.
For if salt and flesh
weren’t peripheral, the buried might even have been beautiful—
his face shown three quarters in this half light,
bare yet silk-armored with waiting,
tide after tide.
* Translated from the French word “Outrenoir,” “Beyond Black” is the name of the style of paintings artist Pierre Soulages created by covering his canvases completely with textured black ink or paint.
to speak a language in which
there is a word for twilight combing the curves of an unknown land, or
the slit it promised
in the darkness, eye of a needle
one woman threaded through, we
all dwell by this small pond,
and some cold nights, we yearn to flee our red, pulsating rooms, to
roam the woods
for a clearing of untouched snow.
This world our shack, a shelter named no shelter. Say
ice, say wound, say survivor.
The woman rips off her coat, boots and jade bangle, dancing
away, even her thoughts wiped out by oblivious flakes.
On the grey prairie
only our tree of thorns blooms, its branches
fissuring all the light, the skyline, pale
white, tinged with gold, under a sheet of obsidian
All of this life we’ve been nailing houses
for shade and for pining, hands
heavy with scars.
On a damp, wintry day in Paris, I had just closed the shutters when I heard the beating of the wings of a bird springing into flight outside. In that instance, I thought of Pierre Soulages’ abstract paintings created by covering the canvas with textured black paint. In both circumstances, I could not identify pictorial information through vision, but experienced, sensorily, a sentiment even more refined and beautiful. This process of being denied one way of interpretation and given an alternative also struck me as a moment of hope and unexpected delight.
While being a poet as well as an artist feels like having my feet on separate floes as these two temperaments in me drift apart dangerously into each of their unknowns at times, I have always reconciled them in serendipitous moments of revelation when I suddenly see a piece of art in a new light because I found a parallel of it in poetry.
Motivated to harness the powers of this internal tension, I gave myself an ongoing prompt to write a group of ekphrastic poems about hope, and here are two of them.