Autumn on the Seine, Argenteuil
Two banks, one golden, one green,
and in the center, the town
ahead, with a spire needling up,
a puncture into clouds,
and vague suggestions
of industry—buildings, smoke, and noise.
What I love along the bank are the skiffs
drawn up, five or more
at the golden side, the first boat
a bright russet like a horizontal flame
the next two mauve, one a sailboat,
The ochre-gold spills down from the cottonwoods,
pouring under the hulls,
entering the river with the same
intensity of burning
we see in life at its peak,
or life with the flame
threatening to go out.
In a month the trees will be masts
bare as the boats,
the man we know, ill with a fatal brain tumor,
will be gone—the Grand River
burnished with ochre and red
as the Seine is,
cooling air hinting at winter’s knives.
One bank green in the painting,
green going away,
and the river placid, calm—
in the center of it—
the flowing never ceasing, rhythm of moon,
sun, the turning earth, pulling it outward,
eternal, restless, to the maw of the sea.
Terrible to look at them closely
through gauzy webbing,
how they writhe and twist,
a jumbled mass, squirming,
faceless, mouthparts moving, chewing—
are they eating the excretions
from others in their nest?
Sometimes men seize on a gem,
an idea of burning them out
with a gas-soaked rag held aloft
like a torch on a long pole—
the whoosh as the rag lights, an awful
purse-shaped bag of flame
blackening as the insects
Kill the infestation but not
to light the shed—its wood
so crackling dry it wouldn’t take
much, the sun’s rays concentrated
on a nailhead heating up, spontaneously
combusting the nearby slats,
crumbling brown boards.
And the woods themselves, not to
stumble, toe caught on Virginia creeper,
ankle turned on a leafpile or log,
not to drop the pole, or let this
caterpillar nest-fire drop straight down,
liquid melt setting duff, mounded oak leaves,
deadfalls, last year’s Christmas tree ablaze—
and if you do—the quickness with which
it catches, runs, blows up to the treetops—
lighting them. How many nightmares
of fiery extinction, this purge to destroy
a spreading pest but rescue the cottonwood?
How many visions of a thing burned clean,
the mass destroyed, what’s left made
beautiful by riddance, by a scouring flame.
Header image — Autumn on the Seine, Argenteuil by Claude Monet, 1873 — courtesy WikiArt.