Laura and I went swimming nude
in a pool on Redwood Creek.
The little fish nibbled at our toes
and sometimes got more intimate.
In another pool at the mouth of the creek,
we watched the orange-bellied newts
swimming in pairs, the males on top,
holding their lovers with all four legs,
breaking the surface to both gulp air,
then diving toward the bottom again.
In bed, Laura lay on her stomach
and had me hold her this way,
saying, “Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, gulp,”
undulating sensuously and laughing,
spreading her legs and putting me in.
Laura and I crossed the country
in a driveaway car bound for Chicago,
a psychology graduate student
and her hippie poet lover.
The car was so full of stuff
we couldn’t sleep in it, but we economized
by getting motels every other night,
and driving marathons on caffeine.
The only time we left Interstate Eighty
was when I showed her Medicine Bow Peak.
She laughed that there was snow in July
and threw snowballs at me.
In Carbondale, she started summer classes,
leaving me alone all day
in the sticky heat of her apartment
with two roommates I didn’t like.
Then I discovered the college library,
and lost myself in Nympheas,
a book about Claude Monet’s Water Lilies,
written in French, but all I needed was the pictures.
I stayed in Carbondale about six weeks.
Laura and I ate Greek sandwiches
and went to a friend’s party.
All her friends were psychologists.
I went home to California,
cross country on the Greyhound Bus.
When Laura talked to me on the phone,
she didn’t want me to come back.
It is not the shine so much
(both emerald and turquoise)
set against the velvet
of teardrop wings which makes
this thing so beautiful
as that it is alive.
Its black eyes are aware;
its perch, a tentative moment
in confusions of leaf and shade.
Like the rich tone of twilight
I call “infinite blue,”
it ripples on my thought,
almost a fantasy, fluttering
on quiet petals of night,
a song in a minor key.
Exekias took a small clay cup
which he had made and glazed it red
before painting Dionysos
in his boat, overgrown with
fountaining clusters of grapes,
and dolphins leaping in the sea.
He made the sail a brilliant white,
the drinking horn violet, and scratched
in careful details with a point;
he signed it, “Exekias made me.”
The red was an experiment,
hard to control and rarely used,
richer than the red of clay
ordinarily left exposed,
a winedark sea in a drinking cup.
It was found, assembled and discussed
two dozen centuries later.
The man remains unknown except
for the way he crystallized mood,
putting fire into the sea
so dolphins, ship, and god would shimmer
brightly in a cup of wine.
Take a pond in a garden with a Japanese bridge
and watch the skylight color the blossoming trees.
You are a painter and this scene is your reflection,
a universe to dissect and reassemble.
To leave room for a loose hand’s expressive brushstrokes,
already large canvases expand to overwhelm.
After the first few, it remains necessary
only to paint the pond and its image of trees,
letting the surface shimmer to weightless purple,
the lilies lose solidity and float into space.
Two men from a bicycle shop stretch their canvas
over a different sort of frame and learn to fly;
a patent clerk in Switzerland discovers that
matter and energy both express the same thing;
an astronomer wonders why the absorption lines
of spiral nebulae are shifted to the red.
Your universe is expanding as you grow old;
as flowers turn into islands of energy
and atoms of water glitter like star-clusters,
each piece of summer light fills an entire wall.
copyright © 1975 - 2005 Carl Miller
The artist poems were inspired by color plates in art books in the university library in Carbondale. The texts, alas for me, were in Deutsch and Français. Drawing, “Exekias’ Cup,”: 1983, fine-tip marker on paper, 8.5 x 11 inches.