Five Poems After Art

Jack Christian


After “The Dam, Loing Canal at Saint Mammes,” by Alfred Sisley 1884


Held out from River Seine,
I stole into morning


hoping boredom might accrete
into worship if I could be


uncalculated as any breeze.
This aim muttered irreverently


until true, and no urge did guide
the brush, making me mesmerized


by any thing, by boaters
on their errand near the lock,


beneath clouds we dreamed ourselves,
water mirroring less than obliged,


village grave pastel
common to the cutbank


grown of glyphs, my life,
my spirit, uncertain stipple


of unseen, homes swaybacked
and rotting like who gives a shit.


Not me, fled from the parlor
into the plain air, bleating


through midday until
the canal was sky, too.





After “Spring at Bougival” by Alfred Sisley, 1873


Maybe I’ve missed it again, been beleaguered
by bugs, by weather, with no direction


to approach my lostness, so crawl
and call it back. Box easel, field easel,


new whoop of the trivial. On the path,
my father holds his arms wide, walking


with one leg surer than the other,
inviting and cancelling oblivion


for which neither of us can account,
much less stop and hug. In a tyranny


of flowers he’s telling me life is like
a ribbon someone ties and then removes


the finger. That’s him, he’s saying. That’s me
in turn, a bow wrapped to nothing.


For a moment we’re blameless in the blooming,
content to let the trail meander,


our day darkened by petals beneath
clouds that are also blooms, beneath a sky


we don’t know. The two of us, the flimsy trees.





After “Nocturne in Black and Gold” by James Abbott McNeill Whistler, 1875


If I’m longing I’m painting.
I’m 200 miniature suns


against the stinginess of evening.
Cinder plume in the neighborhood


that stank of salt. Great difficulty
of happening into, and sure ecstasy


of joining. I tried to hold all these selves,
our tide, great jab of palaver, smoke


figured in sand, another night
arriving in blue. This one. That one.


The suckiness of leisure, making me
complicit, and beside myself,


and afraid of getting older. Each step
a shore, spark of the instance


I tried to paint into permanence, what dark
exploding, what dark I couldn’t see.





After “Harmony in Blue and Silver: Trouville” by James Abbott McNeil Whistler 1865


Earth ends here,
not with a scream


but with a tourist
lost against an ocean,


making the beach
a scene to see.


He’s not real.
He’s just this dude


stuck happily
in a microwave:


Measured yelp
and evocative poster-print,


see-through wish
for pretty death


as if from a catalog.
Or else no death,


sailor coat and woven hat
sold separately,


the superstition
death won’t come


while we watch
a pretend flaneur,


as if salvation
were in accounting,


and in keeping-track
an error-code into heaven.


Keep looking
it’s all terrible:


Translucent fucker
locked down in the gloss.


For my next trick
I will monetize


this hopelessness.


After “Peaceable Kingdom of the Branch” by Edward Hicks, 1822-1825


Come see the white kid
doing miracles roadside


with his fat face
while beneath his arm


the brown lion naps.
See the white kid making magic


where the creek is white.
The white kid honored first


with jungle animals
and of-late with laser-lights.


The white kid scribbling plans
for a precious gems, dinosaur bones,


old cars, dead soldier
wax museum, all to commemorate


his being so white the lion
doesn’t shred him — His being so white


Dixie sycophants buy tickets,
not so much for the miracle


of the bridge the creek made
as for the Confederate-sympathizing


laser-lights. The creek babbling
for all time. The creek thinking:


of course laser-lights
are what this roly poly


holy toddler has been on about.
The creek thinking, but then again


it’s in the presence of this brat
I become a thinking creek.
While the lion naps.
The lion yanked from Africa


so the kid could halt
its first communion with the sheep.



JACK CHRISTIAN is the author of the poetry collections Family System, which was selected by Elizabeth Willis for the 2012 Colorado Prize, and Domestic Yoga (2016, Groundhog Poetry Press). His poetry has appeared recently in The New York Times Magazine and jubilat.