Daniel Carrington will be featured at FPL’s off the page poetry series in May of 2015. Below you will find Daniel’s poem The Painter. Upon invitation he also contributed an Afterword, original to From the Reference Desk and meant to add insight into The Painter and his creative process.
Daniel Carrington is a Houston-based architect and poet. He is a lifetime member of the Gulf Coast Poets and has been a three-time Spotlight Poet at their annual Poetry Out of Bounds event. In addition, he was featured in Public Poetry’s 2013 Summer/Winter Reading Series and has been selected as a Juried Poet for Houston Poetry Fest in 2010, ‘12, ‘13, and ’14, and his work has appeared in each year’s anthology. He is currently working his first poetry collection entitled Mosaics of the Night.
ours is a fleshy fruit
beneath overcast skies.
by contrast, the bad apples
with which we battle
are like gnarled fists and knuckles
under the hard sun of heaven.
those sharp shadows that mark
the orchard floor define a dark aspect
that sits alongside simple pleasures,
as mingled as the palette of the painter –
the fields of gold and crows of black.
much is made of this fertile crescent
in which we grow and go to seed,
but what I know is such that
the canvas weft might hold it
if it were not a crime to even speak it.
it is this:
let us be grasshoppers, you and I.
what the industry of insects makes
is a social apparatus, a levee
or earthen dam against which presses
an eager water in which we sense
no enmity, no joy,
just the business of overflowing the valley
to renew the land through violence.
(Originally published in the 2010 Houston Poetry Fest Anthology)
“The Painter” wasn’t published until 2010, but its earliest drafts date back to ’06. Writing this companion piece gave me the opportunity to go back and reexamine those initial brushstrokes in an effort to help any interested readers better understand my process as well as my personal take on the overall composition. (This is the point where a *SPOILER ALERT* is warranted, though I’ve tried to leave some things to the imagination.)
The poem is grounded in actual events of that not-so-distant time, though to betray them would be like exposing a canvas to prove it’s there. It serves best discreetly but, much like the events I allude to in the poem, springs to mind at the merest mention. After all, what battles? What levees? It’s enough to say that they served their purpose (in the narrative, if not in reality). Add to that the withering pace of my workload at the time, and it comes to this: I was tired – plain and simple. Art, however, is rarely either.
If there is any refuge at all though, I find it in art, so from this very real but somewhat oblique starting point, the poem ventures out into reverie, into a landscape awash in beauty but feathered by dread. And it was here that I paid a not-so-subtle homage to Vincent van Gogh’s Wheatfield with Crows, a painting as much framed by levees as the painter himself, stricken as he was. I like to think there was a measure of solace for him inside his frames. But there were also the crows. They’re just impressions of birds really, reduced to a few sublime brushstrokes. If one were to look closer, they might realize that it is us who color them with our omens – a hallmark of our duality, those inescapable oppositions that define us.
It may be reasonable to acknowledge hardboiled truths, but I find that reason is seldom reason enough. Recognizing a fact is not the same as reconciling with it. And it’s at this point that the poem turns on itself. Weary as I was, having come to this place to find respite, it’s easy to resent reminders that all is fleeting. In that sense, I think my invocation of Aesop’s fabled grasshopper was more hyperbole than a ringing endorsement of slothfulness. It’s a plea against extremes made in the most extreme terms – proof in itself of the limitations of reason.
Ultimately, the poem does not offer an olive branch though, not to mankind and certainly not to me. That I perceived events unfolding around me as adversarial is a fault of perception on my part. Time and tide will always imperil our levees, and our intercessions in this world are impermanent at best. To simply understand that wasn’t enough for me. But by embracing it, I made peace with the Painter.
Other Poems by Daniel Carrington: