Taking writing students to the Museum of Art at the University of New Hampshire

(I take my students each semester. Look closely, I say, and then write. Do not analyze. Do not label what you write. Just see what happens. I write with them. Most of the time, I find myself writing fiction. Today, I did not.)

I.

Shrouded figures at the well.

Pipes exit the wall,

disappear into the ground.

Only the general’s foot remains

 

his face long forgotten,

nails pounded into his coffin

a floating prison

one man pondering his gun.

 

The bent man balances

on his toes in the pit.

Another sorts stone into

red and black bags.

 

The couple in t-shirts bearing

their own curious faces.

Her skin is a sheet of tin

shimmering in the moonlight

 

near a dim horizon

where the pink edge of sky

meets a sunken, drooping fence,

a moon-bent telephone pole,

 

and a row of black-barked trees,

my mother’s molecules dissolve

and the sky barges into night.

Only the bright barn awaits.

 

II.

His mother looks at currents.

He watches the stars

while the water roils

down near the scrap pile

 

down near the tugboats

down near the salt

down near the throne

where he guards the ladder

 

down near the scrap pile

down near the salt pile

two shrouded figures

discuss the water.

 

III.

Why is he making us look at art?

Why are we looking at art?

Why are we looking?

Why is there art?

 

All art is temporary.

How long will this ladder/chair

be a ladder/chair?

A hundred years?

 

Will it reach toward nothing

until infinity unkinks?

How long will its rungs lead

into a silent sky?

 

Or the book under the glass?

Or the cow in the painting?

Or the unpainted barn wall?

The words are ephemeral,

 

gone as soon as the poet concludes,

but the paintings and sculptures

radiating an impermanent joy,

what do we make of them?