Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2011 v10n1
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Pastoral with Dog and Frank O’Hara

Late May, the field boasts
buttercups and purple asters.
The dandelions are fuzz.

I would boast proximity,
face to face with a lazy low-slung pine,
but I’m elsewhere, thinking

of the red room where a good
black dog once slept and slapped
her tail against the beige carpet.

I know the tiny spore-clouds
dervish-whirling over the field
are pollen and future flowers,

but maybe they are also the spirit
of a good black dog nosing her way
into my poem. Tammy, you’re in

pieces, I say to the air,
and it’s like love, all over me
and all out of reach. Or it’s like death,

bewildering and difficult
to explain. The first thing I look for
in a forest is a birch; it’s the one

tree I know well. Therefore: birches
at field edge, clustered in threes.
Two butterflies are courting

in the taller grasses, now flutter-fucking,
now two yellow lightships coasting
against the breeze. I’m far

from the red room, far from red,
though I feel a tight space in my gut
like an overlooked alcove: there’s

the red room and red. Not the red
of valentines or blood oaths. It’s the red
the dead leave behind, a loneliness

that’s not quite real. So Motherwell
once wrote to Frank O’Hara: One
never gets used to reality. One never gets used

to The Black Sun or the way
everyone and I stopped breathing. Every day
the field looks different

and I have to decide what I see:
the field or the page, the sky inverted
and green or the part of the desk

I can’t reach. Is it possible to be
tired of the field? I can write about it
in a poem or I can think about Tammy

or I can decide not to decide
because no one wants to stop breathing,
no one wants to leave home,

where the red room promises TV,
sauvignon blanc, and window shades.
And sometimes birch branches

reaching out from a porcelain pitcher,
a forest civilized and in miniature.
And sometimes a plate of cheese,

for now is the no man’s land
between lunch and dinner. I don’t
want to try too hard to explain

what makes me sad, or to suffer
too much to undo suffering,
though the field is also a dwelling

for shadows, for insects frail and
insignificant as lint and the owl’s
noisome midnight catch,

what I only know as dying things.
The thing is O’Hara should’ve said
shut up, and just paint the pictures,

but Motherwell said this to himself.
You don’t need a field to write a poem.
Who the hell said that? Oh. I did.  end

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