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
in a microwave:
and evocative poster-print,
for pretty death
as if from a catalog.
Or else no death,
sailor coat and woven hat
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.
it’s all terrible:
locked down in the gloss.
For my next trick
I will monetize
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.