ON THE ART OF PATIENCE

BY JIM TILLEY

With a Mozart concerto in the background
and little to do as I waited for the next available associate
to be with me shortly, I began to comprehend
how one infinity can be larger than another,
not in the sense of the mathematician
who can prove that rational numbers are countable
and real numbers are not, but my patience,
which I am continually thanked for,
the next available associate undoubtedly

unaware of my infinite fascination with Mona Lisa’s
excised eye staring upside down
from the minute hand, obliterating the smile at half past
the hour, according to the artisanal timepiece
my wife brought back from Florence last year.
A larger infinity is what my neighbor’s cow
exhibits every day lying near the split-rail fence,
alone with her thoughts as the cars speed by.
Today, she was watching the sky clear

after an early morning rain that Constable
would have captured in a pastoral scene,
though the cars would have been horses,
and they would likely have been grazing when the sun
broke through and beat on their backs, the life
of horses not so different from the life of cows
or people on hold, or even an artist like Reinhardt
whose work, exhibited at MoMA, seemed to be rushed
near the end of his life, no doubt the reason

he turned to monochromes and turned so black,
and tall rectangles of earlier paintings
ceding their space to smaller squares, the subtle changes
in hue and tone maybe discernible by others,
but not me, though they might have been
if viewed under different light where one could
catch a trace of the mountains at deep dusk
he must have first brushed onto the canvas,
followed by a beach with bathers clad only in dark skin,

then a black haystack with Black-Eyed Susans
off to the right, and ending with a self-portrait
that explicated his choice of color−
undetailed, unremitting, permitting, no not permitting,
but coercing
the viewer’s mind to co-exist
with the artist’s, as in stepping into Gaudi’s forest
of columns that draw one’s eyes to a ceiling
where porphyritic trunks branch into geometry,
the redwood canopy leaving no sense

of outside world, there being no sign of anyone’s
god lurking in the stained glass,
no resolution of apse from transept amidst a thicket
of rusted iron shafts and crossbeams,
scaffold for the project he couldn’t complete in a lifetime,
that may never be finished in anyone’s lifetime
my wife and I concluded as we passed through
the timelessness of the cathedral on our recent trip
to Barcelona. Finishing is not the point in art,

just calling it quits when one runs out of patience
or some other project commandeers the mind,
which brings to mind the plight of the pandas,
a species also on hold, who, like their forebear
Ling Ling, seem unable to reproduce
in captivity, the problem not that there aren’t enough
bamboo shoots or Eucalyptus leaves
to keep them healthy and amorous,
or enough open space to tango with a mate,

but unlike the cow trying to insinuate herself
into the Constable landscape, the female panda
doesn’t see the point of lying around
feigning lack of interest until her consort
springs into action. Or perhaps she can see
the thing is being filmed and refuses to take part
in panda porn, isn’t fooled or moved by Mozart
saturating the air from speakers hidden in trees,
no more than I was for 19 minutes and 57 seconds

(no, Mona Lisa doesn’t have a second hand,
but the rose-gold Tourneau that my wife
bought me in New York City does)
kindly continuing to hold for the next available associate
at William Ashley, sole Canadian distributor
for the English Portmeirion Botanic Garden collection
of fine china, in particular the six 8”-diameter
pasta bowls featuring the Treasure Flower,
Eastern Hyacinth, Sweet William, Garden Lilac,

Dog Rose, and Belladonna Lily, their common names.
Later, with more time, though for no good reason,
I was able to find the Latin appellations,
which, in the interest of space, I won’t provide.
Did I mention that I was trying to buy the pasta bowls
for my mother’s 80th birthday in two weeks’ time?
Or that the next available associate told me
they were out of stock? “Would you like
the salad bowls instead?” she asked.

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JIM TILLEY earned a doctorate in Physics from Harvard University.  He retired in 2001 after a 25-year career in insurance and investment banking.  He has won numerous prizes for his papers in actuarial science, finance, and investments, and recieved the 2008 Founder’s Award from the International Insurance Society for his pioneering work in asset-liability managment.  His poems have been published in Southen Poetry Review, Atlanta Review, Chattahooche Review, New Delta Review, Nimrod, Rattle, Florida Review, and other journals.  He resides with his wife in Bedford Corners, New York. Poet Billy Collins selected “On The Art of Patience” as the winner of Sycamore Review’s 2008 Wabash Prize for Poetry. The poem was published in Issue 21.1-Winter/Spring 2009.