The artist’s mother, hours before he’s born, stands before her easel in a wide, white, streaked pinafore, a weather-beaten sail, brush suspended briefly, midair. Outside the window, the sun finds its way through and the child inside her stirs, as if to sense already his form within its envelope of light (and soon, a shock, the untouched air). Light, yes, and wisps of shadow, and, just beginning, the shapes of things, like a scene through fog of familiar objects made strange, their edges just emerging: a small room, its slanted roof, a chimney, finding themselves vaguely, like ideas not yet quite formed.
The Berry Pickers
A man who wants to be an artist should never look at pictures. How do you learn the shifting shape of wind, its rare summer sweetness, mornings when sun and rising fog wash the sky’s crisp face with a whitened sheen? The children crouch in salt-licked shrubs, heads down, their shoulders sun-warm and fingers staining purple, a few tongues stained, too, the thought of pie. The breeze is a child, shy thing for a day. It finds the red ribbon of a girl’s hat, catching it like a kite tail that flutters toward the hint of song perched on a gray branch—more suggestion of bird than bird, tiny brushstroke in the broad sky.
Inside the Bar, Cullercoats
Apron blooming in the wind, a jib, she’d fly wing and wing if let unmoored from the stolid rock, left foot jutting toward the waves, hand on a hip, and at her throat a red scarf like a life welled up against its gray backdrop. Behind her the boat takes her profile, stiff billow braced for the sea’s thrash but less sure than she, on this spit of rock, waiting for the catch—blank waters at her back, at her feet a steely pool that holds her shadow, left by the tide. Wide sweep of storm clouds. On her arm hangs a basket to catch what diminished light seeps through.
The Fog Warning
Waves black-green, ink-wet and knived, bile in the gut of some blind beast, troughs deep, glint on the reckless crests that thrust the dory’s nose toward the sky that closes in with a whisper too low, too close to the ear, and far away the schooner’s blot of sail like an uncertain home. But no room here in the dory for melodrama: a pair of firm hands on the oars, slicker dark as the sea. Over the shoulder a glance prolonged to take in distance, danger. Stern heavy with the huge white flounder’s flank, tailfin breeching gunwale, gleaming flesh—unlucky one from the other side.
The fox is belly-deep, rust red streak in the drift of snow that takes its color from everything in order to hold every thing against it—a few prickly stems proffering berries like drops of blood to the fox’s extended paw. Hunted, he is for a moment paused, neck not outstretched to speed the flight, but raised, head turned and black ears pricked toward the surf where it shatters over rocks, blue-green foam, gray ocean sucking back into sky. He turns his head but keeps his course along the shore while faceless crows—a jeer of black wings—wait.
The Life Line
The ship, lost ghost of comfort, loose sails and shrouds flapping, is a splinter among the rocks. Even the squared, razored cliffs will be beaten in time. But now, strung on the lifeline between, a body stolen from ruin, one hand on the rope, the other hanging over a jagged wave—soaked clothes cling to thighs, breasts, soft-shaped and rippable flesh. Spray erupts, explodes, the rescuer all but hidden, his broad arm across her waist, as the red rag of her scarf whips across his face—flag in the wind to match her lips, it renders her alone here, suspended over the heaving deep, that taut line so thin.
West Point, Prout’s Neck, Maine
Reckless precision, pull and layered flow of paint: the force that forms the wave drives it ceaselessly to shore. He holds it in his hand, presses his own will against it: crimson streak across the horizon, sunset tingeing the ocean as it plunges at the rocks, gets dragged between them, all churn and rush, into the hollow body of the next rearing wave. What to make of it, arched back like a broken wrist, tethered by a brush to its shattering and wild against last light, bursting into sculpture, impossibly paused—a salty spume of chiseled shards, an unhinged slap to the flushed sky.
“Sea Paintings” is from Hannah Fries’s first collection of poems, Little Terrarium, published by Hedgerow Books in November 2016. Hannah is the recipient of a scholarship from the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, and her poetry and prose have appeared in such places as American Poetry Review, Massachusetts Review, and Drunken Boat. She currently works as a project editor at Storey Publishing in western Massachusetts and is a contributing editor for Terrain.org.