Winslow Homer, Painter
(1836 – 1910)
The Artist’s Studio in an Afternoon Fog
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.
Read two poems by Hannah Fries also appearing in Terrain.org.
Header painting, “Sunlight on the Coast” (1890), by Winslow Homer, courtesy Toledo Museum of Art and Wikipedia.