IT ISN'T THE SUN

Hiroshi Sugimoto | Seascape:   Aegean Sea, Pillon,  1990.         via   c4gallery

Hiroshi Sugimoto | Seascape:   Aegean Sea, Pillon, 1990.        
via c4gallery

POEM

The minute gears mutely whir. To put your ear
Against it is to put your ear inside it.
It does not tick. It isn’t a heart.
It has no pulse. It isn’t a clock or a wrist.
Scrutiny can coax no secret from it.
There is no hearse with one flat tire
In endless circuit, headlights dispersed
In fog like sunset behind a veil.
A paving stone extends a grave through iron
Gate to a door at home. To knock
Your hand against it puts your hand inside it,
As in a cloud at night the pale moon
Gathers itself outside itself its own light
And glows dimly behind the dust that outshines it.
It has no heat. It isn’t the sun.
It isn’t uncertain. It does not think
About the sun or the distant balls of dirt
And ice that circle closer to the star
With each circuit done. Comet tails
Darkly flowing back as the horse leaps
Forward, straining against the catafalque
All November, predict disaster as grammar
Predicts breath, the need to breathe, or the mind
Must rest. It is its own edgeless disaster.
It is there as if it were not there. Vague
Repetitions haunt the circumference.
To walk out the door is to place your foot
On a stone worn away by another’s foot.
Rumor has it that the sun sends heat in form
Of sight. Watch the ice as it melts
For proof: water pools, darkens on a stone,
Becomes as a shadow on a stone,
A horse’s hoof as it rises off a stone,
Except it rises forever, and the shadow is gone.
Such processes turn the minute gears.
It is not a note in the margin. The margin is
Covered with snow. When the winter fog
Disperses a black horse stands on ice
And cannot move. It is as if a breathless song
Hovered like a veil in the air. The black
Horse’s breath spirals upward like smoke.
Pyre-smoke like a thumbprint as a cloud.
Similes sing mutely in it, likening the unlike.
Mourners name the peace they find and walk
Away. To step into it is to find it missing.
The footprints are before you as you go.
— Dan Beachy-Quick

Yet another of those beautiful seredipitous moments this morning when, having read and loved and re-discovered this poem three times, I read the accompanying interview at How a Poem Happens. Only then did I discover that 'the whole poem arose out of reading Levinas' - Levinas, of course, being one of the key foundational thinkers in my thesis.

Moreover, the poem seems intricately related to one of my own entitiled Palms which is long  wanting a revision; or perhaps a sister poem.

All that is to say: this poem's really got me. 


IT TREMBLES TO CARESS THE LIGHT

James Casebere: La Alberca, 2005/2006 Photo: courtesy Goetz Collection 

James Casebere: La Alberca, 2005/2006
Photo: courtesy Goetz Collection 

Epilogue

Those blessed structures plot and rhyme-
why are they no help to me now
i want to make
something imagined not recalled?
I hear the noise of my own voice:
The painter’s vision is not a lens
it trembles to caress the light.
But sometimes everything i write
With the threadbare art of my eye
seems a snapshot
lurid rapid garish grouped
heightened from life
yet paralyzed by fact.
All’s misalliance.
Yet why not say what happened?
Pray for the grace of accuracy
Vermeer gave to the sun’s illumination
stealing like the tide across a map
to his girl solid with yearning.
We are poor passing facts.
warned by that to give
each figure in the photograph
his living name.
— Robert Lowell

A painter's vision is not a lens. Except, in the case of James Casebere, when it is.
Following this, it is relatively easy to say that his images are heightened from life, yet paralysed by fact. His images trounce the real, they are contaminated by fiction. Is it photo, is it painting? The illumination characteristic of his work is at its most ambiguous in La Alberca. Here, the combination of the abstract, shallow reflective pool of water melts all solidity, returning the physical to its liquid state. The source of illumination is not clear - we are contained in the gestural space.

To talk about La Alberca with Lowell's Epilogue hovering at the front of my mind directs me to a correlation between Vermeer and Casebere. I note that Vermeer's work nearly always contains a window - an explicit announcement of the how and why light enters. Casebere, conversely, is not concerned with the entry of light, but with the what the illumination allows.

But even this distinction is not as clear as it might appear. Both artists obsess over how light returns the eye to reality - both artists tremble to caress the light. For Vermeer, painting the everyday Milkmaid was a subject of both stark reality and highly institutionalised myth. His illumination works to bring together these two isolated views. For Casebere the same is true - light folds together the reality of space and the myth that physical material alone is form giving.

Vermeer, The Milkmaid

Vermeer, The Milkmaid

Casebere, The Flooded Hallway

Casebere, The Flooded Hallway

Casebere.

Casebere.