A small city disappears in
the near-sighted dusk of a coastal winter.
Someone is walking home as I once did.
Someone is thinking as I did once
this is their neighborhood, their consolation.
Once I thought words could describe this.
Now I reach for the sable brush
my mother once used, lifting it clear
from the jar of turpentine
it hasn’t steeped in for fifty years.
Carmine and magenta. An arm bent
at the elbow. Dense yellow fog.
Alizarine, cobalt, yellow ochre.
Ultramarine and manganese.
Ivory added to and mixed with
all of them, making colors run
into the Connemara summer
she is painting on a London afternoon:
a riddle of ocean light, a gannet
riding a wave, a creel of mackerel.
A glass mirror mounted on swivels.
A palette splashed with oil paints
circling wood with ochre, orange,
cadmium, ultramarine, bright white.
Fog outside the window, thinned-out
West-of-Ireland distances on canvas.
My mother settling the palette to her left,
putting her thumb in the opening.
Reaching for the brush in its jar.
A canvas stretched out and ready
to be tacked to the frame, made tight,
primed with animal glues and linseed,
measuring three by two, more or less.
The gesso put on with a wide brush.
The brushes dropped into the unstirred
cloudy and distilled turpentine,
ready for the paint-stained and rough
hemmed cotton rag to clean.
When I was a child I picked it up.
What would I do if I found it now?
This so-called sable brush
that started its journey in the dark
on the back of a weasel in the center
of a Siberian wood and moved on
to a cormorant’s wing laced with
Atlantic water it would trace,
in my mother’s hand. I would use it
to unsay my own evening:
Granite. Ocean grit. Distance.
Then open a watercolor sketchbook.
As I held the plainwood handle
I would dip the sable in azure or shadow
until a winter evening re-appeared.
A road. Someone walking home,
who might be me, inhaling peat smoke.
Then dip the brush hairs in window,
then yellow light and wash the whole
watercolor block with home.