An Agenda Less Substantial Than Sight

Here’s a poem from Potato Eaters, published in 2008 by Finishing Line Press. I’m watching Mr. Turner, the biopic about J.M.W. Turner, and the poem references one of Turner’s paintings.

An Agenda Less Substantial Than Sight
Driving down the parkway trying to scratch
something from the mind, how the rain
and the slickness of the road escapes quickly
and what the thaw means.
You had been saying how cold
it has been between us lately. Not thinking
of the drive ahead—a car turned over
on its side has been placed there
by some immense hand, the first stroke
made by a painter on an empty canvas.
An ambulance, and the first color is red.
This is what Turner meant with his fires.
Not boats, not a singular bird,
charcoal at the base of the canvas, not
strokes of white forced in the background.
But the fire, smack
in the middle, drawing the eye like a dart.

It must be an ending, though,
Burial at Sea, because you know
which stoke must have come first.
Sometimes eyes wish they had an agenda
less substantial than sight,
so as not to see the flame’s inner glow,
or the turmoil within a stroke.
A way to see such that shadows
could be separated from light.

The full title of his painting is Peace–Burial at Sea. (image courtesy of the Tate Gallery)

Peace - Burial at Sea exhibited 1842 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N00528
Peace – Burial at Sea exhibited 1842 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N00528

nawrocki COV

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