Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Exile in a Thrift-Store Landscape

Nothing can fully ripen in this place,
since time stood still the moment it was made.
See how the cypresses refuse to bow,
how even the absurd, tidy wheat sheaves
assert their claims on this eternity?

Light, cast from a doubtful, unseen star
just over the horizon’s wobbly line,
will neither brighten nor suddenly dim,
causing the poor misshapen animals
(blue cattle and what could be a donkey)
to ooze their purple shadows forever.

Festering below, in grass they’ll never taste,
the scribbled ruins of some poppies.

It’s fortunate the painter lacked the skill
to render flesh—no badly made farmer
ever appears, so the three olive trees
must prune themselves, and fields remain unplowed.

Better to close your eyes than stare too long
at the distorted and meaningless
hunk of mountain—it’s neither Alpine
nor Appalachian, and no one will ever
try to scale it. Who could survive
in a landscape so devoid of perspective?

This is not Greece, nor Germany, nor France.
In fact, no country’s fixed a border here
because it can’t exist. The soil itself
is wrong, the crops confused, the regions mixed.

Though only a minor decoration
(here the painter indulged himself in black)
the smudge of crow seems right, perched upon
a detail you might easily overlook:
—it’s just an angled ocher slash, really,
but the wooden fence post knows why it’s there:
to remember it was once a tree,
to be sturdy and hold still for the grapes,
those optimistic envoys of late summer
clustered so deep in their leafy shadows
they’re barely visible to the man
who comes to buy the painting over lunch.

He’s just walked twelve blocks, alone in the rain.
In fact, he traveled years to get here, holding
papers from a place you don’t recognize,
on boats you wouldn’t recognize as boats.
His presence here is not entirely legal,
but this is only a thrift store, so no one cares.

He understands the fence post and the grapes,
knows duty and possibility blur
in such a hopeful, unfinished place.

The mountain’s big, but easily toppled.
There’s nothing awful hidden in the ditch.
The animals can’t eat, nor can they die.
The grapes will never ripen, nor be plucked.
Art’s deceptions, not ordinary lies.  

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