blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1



Rothko’s Earth and Green, 1955

Perhaps each color was inspired by a sensation
in his pores, cigarette smoke in his nostrils
or the pleasant rise of heat around his head.
Red sweat. Ashen door. Then his whole night
was that: canvas and haze, the sour hint of dinner
still on his breath. Already he had left the room
by painting a portal into the next, and this despite
his urge to stay in this world, to frame an impossible
gesture. It is said he could not remember
the faces of his country: reading near the warmth
of his father’s samovar, hide-and-seek in the crooked
alleys of Dvinsk, yet such an ordinary fear haunted
him in every green vibration and encroachment

of blue, every thin overlap the hue of rainwater,
every wall through which a trace of light might pass.
Sometimes a color was just the thrill of his skin
at the brink of discovery, like when a boy notices
figures in the grain of a kitchen table, or milk
swirling with tea while his mother irons laundry
just behind him. Corresponding signals of press
and steam, wisp and dispersal. And even while
painting he understood that somebody else must
open the space between them, that a viewer could
ease his passage by recognizing that his canvas
was a door to the common world, dawn between
then and now, so stare for a moment into the mouth
of this picture: inhalation exhalation, green
blue, the yawn of a man before he stirs awake. 

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