by Norman Dubie
Robert Lowell, 1917-1977
A painter, thin with auburn hair, works before an easel
While looking coldly into a meadow, her free hand
Raises the red gauze of her dress then scratches the pink
Spider bite that’s high up where her leg emerges
From the charcoal shadow of her draping buttock muscles—
She’ll do the meadow over tomorrow
With even more ghostly silica orbs of dandelions, adding the red spouting
Indian-pipe and tacit buttercups;
Water wells up in the painter’s mouth and she swallows it . . .
Earlier in the morning, with a similar unconscious gesture,
You skimmed cream off a saucer of bread in milk, the cream
Was like petals of a buttercup
Caught in a wooden spoon, these mustard-colored flowers are shyly
Acquired by the canvas, and with that exact, same gesture
Of skimming milk . . .
The painter’s black dog jumped up out of the meadow,
His jaws snapping at the air-borne seeds of the wandering dandelion—
Each seed is a fading cipher
Like the invincible, numinous finger of a Balinese dancer . . .
This is the day of your death, a limousine is entering a cemetery
Beyond the meadow, there are rolling lawns landscaped with pine
And the dead are like the nude with small breasts who poses
For students, she has knowledge of the difficult, imperceptible
Rehearsals of weight that make you steady as statuary; adjustments
Of weight, the penciled-in lines of your legs, in relationship
To your hips, which the students will justify by inches
using the very last crumbs of their erasers!
And the large flapping sheets of paper are pinned by their elbows, as
One sketch after another is wasted, torn away and tossed up into the air
Of this cold room with its big sweeping mirrors, the nude with auburn hair
Has a white vaccination on her thigh beside a fresh spider bite, the instructor
Touches a clear cube of ice to the bite while he apologizes . . .
she steps back into her black robe, looks
Above herself to the silk hammocks of speckled brown spiders, what she observes
Is the first principle of weight in suspension
which separates the heavy cream while lifting
It to the surface, then skimming
The meadow like a breeze that carries you and the dandelion seeds into
The solitude of a next season, where the limp
Long greens of dandelions boil through a steamy summer evening . . .
Norman Dubie will publish his fourth book, The City of the Olesha Fruit, with Doubleday in the autumn. He is currently on a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation. (1978)