GAINSBOROUGH PAINTS MAN INTO ROCKS

BY SETH ABRAMSON

The only way to paint a boulder in the surf
is as though it were alive: cooling the moving flesh with colorlessness,
then down to its verb, then evolving to an unknown
beauty in the reeds, where its remarkable lifetime may be no more
than that thing—which could stand for anything—we catch by glimpse,
in a moment we believe we could actually vanish,
having seen the sudden flickering—say, across the intimacies of rocks—

which makes, if we believe it, even the thinnest landscape look briefly
like heaven. So, boulders aren’t easy.
On beaches small children—not with latitudes but seasons
charting their growth—use them for maps, as one after another dares
to swim further, and closer to—perhaps just a gross admixture
of moss and slope, or perhaps, to a painter, a howling minister in black,
a juggler in his moment of desperation—atop the ferocious relay
of the tides, across the loose graves whose grass will never come in.
It’s hard to paint all this as an absence; and so, the only way to paint it

is by painting, from the beginning, people whose fates are soon to fall,
who may have joined themselves to this beach—
at this hour—for any of the reasons a thing may be found in the place
it is found—but, in any case, who are now so far in the distance
the truth of them will never be known, and all their expectant sounds
only imagined. Are they happy? Departing,
or drawing closer? Perhaps they are no longer moving at all,
and the only way to paint a boulder in the surf is still
to disguise it with that hope—that quiet disbelief—it remains unfinished.

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Seth Abramson is the author of The Suburban Ecstasies (Ghost Road Press, 2009) and winner of the 2008 J. Howard and Barbara M.J. Wood Prize from Poetry. A graduate of Harvard Law School and a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, his poems have recently appeared in Best New Poets 2008, Poetry, New American Writing, Conjunctions, Salmagundi, and elsewhere.