TJ Clark – Landscape with a Calm

Poussin, 'Landscape with a Calm', 1650-51

Poussin, ‘Landscape with a Calm’, 1650-51

The man with the goats has seen this light before.
He enjoys it, takes it seriously, but does not turn on his heel
To get a better view. His dog awaits instructions.
People like him have stepped into the same river twice.

I grant you (imagine this barked by a Labrador) that blues and yellows
Sometimes turn things aside from the way they are normally.
For instance, the grass on the low escarpment by the south approach
Is pulled sideways by the sun most afternoons, as if good grazing
Could go on forever, like lava or glacier ice, but cooling, slowing,
Green as grass, maybe, but grass mashed by a pumice
Into an eternal dry paste. Epidermis, cosmetic,
Shadow on the eyes of a face.

The two women in the windows of the high castle
Could care less about green. The world comes to them
Essentially as sound, warmth, a flooding of low energies into oddly shaped receptacles.
Bagpipe music (finally tolerable). Birch leaves. The smell of stubble fires being doused.

Don’t assume that men on galloping horses are in a hurry.

It’s the same old story (the stock figure speaks): Goats do not take a lot of managing,
The dog is underemployed fifty per cent of the time,
But there are always sufficient local shenanigans for us
To be on the wrong side of the river when the sun goes down.
Numbers of times I have measured the last mile and a half
Against the inclination of shadow on the washhouse roof
And decided not.

I do not believe that aromas, even of ash, can be therapy
Any more than the bust in the innermost room of the castle,onyx, email,
Waiting for the Dark Ages, offering them its Roman nose.
Art is not a set of survival skills. The city in the water
Is enough of a stereotype, the city on the hill having failed us.

To be specific, look at the sky. Not the same blue everywhere
But not changeable, not empty, not the blue of a house by the sea.
Not a philosopher’s thinking away of particulars,
Or a painter’s pressing the flesh and having ether be up front;
Sky blue, but sky seemingly touched by something not of this world,
A brush or a glove, until it looks the same way for a week.

* * *

This poem excerpt was taken from TJ Clark, The Sight of Death, Yale University Press, 2006, 40-41

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