If you move fast enough, how nearly abstract everything appears—even the lordly horizontal of the Hudson and the hills hoisting up blue-misty from the far shore as pyramids and black rectangles, even this grid of reeds, its tawny cage pasted to my moving window. Sky only a canvas with all the white and blue leached out of it, one immense something that no name will anchor. Otherwise all is ripple or glitter, is flat, ruffled, scumbled, roughed up, and in this nameless colour—that isn’t grey, or white, but like light itself turned to a screen of dust; but not that either, rather a kind of crystallized transparency, a scrim, a waxed, barest see-through substance, mere nakedness made visible—on which an iron bridge is scribbled, small shapes adrift along it. So living bits and pieces, figures of things, inhabit the flatness of abstraction until, slowed down, you start to see them for birds—not just birdshapes but gulls flapping calmly downstream—or for the solid rusted stark remains of warehouse sheds, embankment buildings, wormy dark up-juts of old wood pilings, or that tall orphaned factory chimney—all (as you slow and slow towards Harlem) come back to claim their proper particular life, returning the world, so that abstraction—which takes up, beyond our everyday touch and go, its fixed abode at the fast unspeakable heart of things—diminishes, and is hidden.
Eamon Grennan is from Dublin, and a member of the English Department of Vassar College. His critical essays have been gathered in Facing the Music: Irish Poetry in the Twentieth Century. His most recent collections of poetry are Still Life with Waterfall, which won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize for 2003, and The Quick of It (Gallery, 2005). (4/2006)