Tiepolesque: is that a word? If not, it should be:
all these clouds stacked up and shadowed blue,
as if the gods had finally deigned to reappear.
It’s easy to imagine them streaming
from the cumuli: that one’s gilt winged shoes and fillet,
this one’s blinding chiton; that one’s hair
a few shades blonder than a stook of wheat,
this one’s black as charcoaled timbers.
I admit I find their pluperfect bodies—
the geometrical precision of their thighs,
the killer abs, the cheekbones sharp enough
to butcher meat—a little . . . vulgar. Next to them,
my frame seems rough-cut, badly finished.
Whoever colored me didn’t stay within the lines.
I see this through the window of a Starbucks,
understand, but why shouldn’t there be
another Renaissance, a looking back
that also serves to purge this moment
of its willful superstitions, such as personhood?
Who doesn’t need her vision to include
ungovernable forces: the city on the hill
as well as the tempest that destroys it,
the pretty seaside home as well as
the freak wave that scrapes it clean away?
The wave, which smells of hake and Cherry Coke,
slides back, and up and down the seaboard
come reports of strange things flying in the air.
If I could call to them, I would, but then
that’s always been a gamble. I don’t know
what furies what I say may summon. The sun
strikes crowns of rays from denim weathers.
One day it all comes true, depending on
what “it” turns out to mean.
Most poems have multiple origins, and “The Truth of Low-Hanging Clouds” is no exception. The poem is part of a manuscript that responds, in one way or another, to the poems in the second half of H.L. Hix’s 2014 collection, As Much As, If Not More Than. For several years, Hix has been inviting visual artists to submit a reproduction of a work and an artist’s statement about the work. Hix posts the image and statement on his blog in quire, then invites a writer to respond to the work and/or statement in any way she sees fit. Hix used two lines of an artist’s statement and two lines of a writer’s corresponding response as the last lines of each of the four 10-line stanzas in the sequence of poems in the second half of his book. Hix used my response to a cut paper “drawing” by artist Anne Devaney in one of the poems; I returned the favor, as it were, by titling almost every poem in my manuscript with a phrase from one of Hix’s poems. I like this idea of a chain or network of works that leapfrogs genres and media, and the layering of self-referentiality with serial turnings-outward, collecting different kinds of stuff as it moves along. Tumbleweedy.
One bit of stuff that my poem collects is the magnificent recycled-denim collage “Untitled (one day it all comes true),” from Jim Hodges’ recent retrospective Give More Than You Take, which I visited several times at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston during the summer of 2014. The subtitle of that tapestry appears in the poem’s penultimate line, and the atmosphere it evokes – of grandeur, mystery, and brooding, shot through with quasi-religious rays of brilliant sunlight – informs the whole. Hodges’ collage reminds me simultaneously of Tiepolo, Turner, and Hokusai, while remaining recognizably Hodges. And it’s made from scraps of thrift-store denim. So another chain of links.
What if the gods were real? What if they really returned? What if they were the truth of low-hanging clouds? What if it all came true today?