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Two Pictures of a Rose in the Dark

by Norman Dukes


Two pictures of a rose in the dark. One is quite black; for the rose is invisible. In the other, it is painted in full detail and surrounded by black. Is one of them right, the other wrong? Don’t we talk of a white rose in the dark and of a red rose in the dark? And don’t we say for all that that they can’t be distinguished in the dark?

                        —Ludwig Wittgenstein


The pleats of the curtain,
hardened in the dark,
turn to lace when car lights
are thrown against the wall,
then withdrawn like a wrong guess.
A mind fatigued is heavy,
barely afloat in the brain,
holds sound long
after the sound is gone.
The rose pictured in the dark
is the wish that “I love”
and “I think” have one boundary,
fragile and brilliant
as if cut out of night.
When exhaustion tires of itself,
of resisting moonlight
or headlights that jog
a memory, I sleep.
In daylight the rose
is the uses of the rose:
yellow, that she picked,
or red, by a hospital bed,
again red, at the end
of a garden . . .
This is work like labor,
how, and what
to distinguish from the dark.

 

Norman Dukes (1942–1984) published a chapbook, The Reckless Sleeper, with the Pourboire Press. His poems have appeared in many magazines, including Salamagundi, Iowa Review, Ploughshares, kayak, and Virginia Quarterly. (1987)


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