A Cheerful Goodbye
Understanding an abstract painting,
as well as attempting to interpret its message,
is a challenge indeed.
As a last painting, does this one make
a farewell statement?
The composition is based on a grid,
twenty-four inch by thirty-inch canvas
divided into six-inch squares.
Does being predominantly red indicate happiness?
(Red was his favorite colour.)
The background was mostly covered up
although pale orange and pink stripes
peek through here and there.
A strange, red, branched figure with three pods,
one high on the left and the other two
low on the right, is the dominant motif.
Behind this icon, an irregular purple area divides the canvas.
Uneven turquoise strokes
are applied over the purple.
Two white shapes outlined in turquoise appear,
lower left and upper right.
The grid does not criss-cross the purple:
it shows on the red figure and part of the background.
The six squares in the middle of the picture
look to be in front of the rest of the panel.
The square in the second row from the bottom
is the center of the composition;
forms solidify with study.
Could the red one be an abstract body?
Is the purple a tree trunk or a torso?
Is the turquoise a river or a waterfall?
Are the white areas uneven panes through which
to view the infinite?
After weeks of fretting
made it impossible to paint,
in a final burst of energy, he was finished.
Perhaps the picture describes the end.
The weak square in the middle is where the icon severs –
cut by the river of life.
The small left section is preparing to sail off
into the land of pink and orange stripes,
leaving the larger right hand section behind.
A few hours after the picture was finished,
The painter sailed off, too.
Sarah Yerkes is 101 years old, and didn't start writing poetry until she was in her mid-90s. This poem was first published in Days of Blue and Flame (2019, Passager Books) and written in response to her husband's last painting. Yerkes studied design at Harvard, worked as a landscape architect, and as a sculptor. At Ingleside, a retirement community, Yerkes began writing poetry with other residents at a monthly poetry salon. Bonnie Naradzay, an Ekphrastic Review contributor, facilitates these workshops. She led an ekphrastic salon that inspired Yerkes to write this poem. Days of Blue and Flame is Yerkes' first book.
Click here to read the Washington Post article about Sarah Yerkes and Bonnie Naradzay's creative writing work with Ingleside Independent Living.
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