To account for their odd-angled, half-melted brokenness, imagine in the dark he cut his houses and rooftops into small pieces and glued them onto new canvas overnight, merely feeling for their places. Some errors of inadjacency, of upsidedownness. In a 24-inch painting, sparking and hissing at you, where rows of windows are rows of eyes – these assaults on placement and colour deliver a gaudy imbalance to buildings and rivers, almost every patch of buildings surrounded by black water.
The painting Sunflower: the flower stalk rises from an island in space like a tiny neighbourhood. The flower head is black and blue-green – not clear if birds have taken the seeds, but surely they have – it’s late in the season, the flower so gaunt: he has eight years to live. It’s not a rehearsal, but find the photograph taken on his death bed. The painting called Sun Tree: leaves bound together like a woman’s pinned up hair, Edith’s hair, in the sand-coloured air. Four Trees: the landscape an ambush he saw when he had just a year to live. The red sun is crushed between layers of mortar – it won’t rise or set, and the four chestnut trees moving in twilight will surround him – soldiers and doctors. A sharp stretch of mountains, all ice, idles on the horizon.
Add to these his startling architectural inquisitions of naked and semi-clothed women and girls, twisted like train wrecks, their clothes on fire, or unclothed they burn, dangerously or passively. Blue-green bruises on kneecaps and elbows, and the flames of their clothing! The saturated green stocking, slips and shirts falling through bodies half transparent. It was the flower of influenza that killed him at 28: its colour and fragrance. Edith died three days before him. I count it worse than the Luisitania. He made sketches of his wife, after she died.
Robert Clinton lives near Boston, has an MFA in writing from Goddard College, and has been a Fellow at the MacDowell Colony. Sarabande Books published his book of poems Taking Eden, and a new book of poems, Wasteland Honey, is forthcoming from Circling Rivers Press. He’s had poems in Wisconsin Review, Antioch Review, Stand and The Atlantic, among others.
The Ekphrastic Review
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