—after Leon Wyczółkowski's painting, “Spring in Gościeradz”
We speak of art, as we make our trip.
We speak against erasure.
You thumb through a tattered volume of lesser-known painters
as we pass one wide, flat field, after another.
Even when only gently, the snow blows,
wiping out the uniqueness of each farmstead,
overcoming even the bulk of hibernating machinery,
John Deere, Massey Ferguson, Kubota.
At times we have to guess where the road is.
You were born in this town and we've not been back since.
How right it feels to make this trip as a birthday gift,
after all your grief and turmoil.
History at the antique shop glows, the oil-rich wood of the egg crates,
the matrix of cardboard inserts still intact—and this holds something off, doesn't it?—
as do the red-handled rolling pins, the sturdy glass of the Fire King bowls,
the green and gold to-be-sewn-on badges with emblems of moose and beavers,
the time-softened postcards, their precise script, official stamps,
the baker's hutches, enamelware teapots, rusted cow bells heavy as human heads.
A primitive blue painted cabinet is jam-packed with rolled up carpets, four rugs
spilling out onto the floor. We stop, altered by awe, tracing their elaborate patterns.
We spend hours threading the three levels of furniture, ephemera, bric-a-brac,
the smell of homemade macaroni soup stitching us to our own narratives,
as the proprietress walks a bowl to her husband (who suffers from dementia)
waiting for her at an oval oak gateleg drop-leaf table, in a private, cordoned-off area.
I watch you thoughtfully touch things, being touched by things, being mended.
Days after I drop you off at home, the first lock-down begins.
Now, still in winter, wondering when we might be together again,
I write you, revisiting Wyczółkowski's “Spring in Gościeradz.”
That pear tree outside his window burns, a golden fire.
The flowers in the vase are doused in flame, too,
as are the curtains, the chair's upholstery, the open book resting in the window.
The tapestry burns its brightest where it's most abraded,
and gold leaf, a debris of stars, shines, shaken, an invitation, all over the wood-worn floor.
Remember upstairs in that antique shop,
those intricate old rugs we loved, that had been rolled, then lobbed,
a shelf's worth of dark spirals?
They're still there, awaiting the light.
This poem was born from a critical time of international and personal unrest. Climate change, COVID, and political polarization begat a maelstrom in the early days of 2020. At this same time, my son, just turning eighteen, was beginning his recovery from a serious bout of depression. Not an easy time for the healthiest of us to move one foot forward and then the other. On the threshold of the first international coronavirus shutdown, I took my son on a day trip for his birthday to visit the small town he was born in and spend time exploring an antique shop, a pastime we both enjoy. I wanted to touch the fabric of his past with him, to further the dialogue between us wherein—using history, love, and art as evidence of a greater good—I might be able to show him the possibility of a rich life.
From Auden's “Death's Echo,” September 1936,
Not to be born is the best for man;
The second-best is a formal order,
The dance's pattern…
We emerge now from the turmoil of the pandemic with those same problems that plagued us at the outset, woven into the dark tapestry of things. But we need not be hopeless. Our work is to construct a new pattern for our dance, through art, policy, love.