Late Turners, by Barbara Crooker
Under the weight of a thickly painted moon,
keelmen heave their load of coal in the viscous
light, bringing it to Newcastle. On the right hand,
torches and small fires illuminate their toil, pierce
the haze from factories on the shore. The sky’s
an argent smear. “Cobalt was good enough for him,”
one critic sniffed, not the fancier and more expensive
ultramarine. Every age has its critics, n’est-ce pas?
They carp and snivel around the edges, fail to see the forest
for the brushstrokes, the celestial city in the centrifugal clouds.
Later, Turner painted “Peace—Burial at Sea,” which someone
snipped could read just as well upside down. He was mourning
Scottish painter David Wilkie, and said about the black sails,
“I only wish I had any colour to make them blacker.” The dark
boat floats on the oily sea, its single sail, a dagger in the chest.
He kept on painting, attacking the surface with his palette knife,
the swirls getting wilder, the heart’s vortex, dissolving the distinction
between water and air, the imprecise measure of fog and smoke and sky.
This poem was first published in Barbara Crooker's book, More, C&R Press, 2010.
Barbara Crooker is the author of eight books of poetry; Les Fauves is the most recent. Her work has appeared in many anthologies, including The Bedford Introduction to Literature, Commonwealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania, The Poetry of Presence and Nasty Women: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse. www.barbaracrooker.com
11/6/2018 12:21:08 am
A dagger in the chest! that's how the poem feels, like the painting (is it in the Tate? I can't remember, though I've seen it more than once). With that blackness in the center, the light is all the brighter. Brilliant.
1/26/2022 08:19:59 am
I never knew that the lone sail of the black boat floats on the oily water like a dagger in the breast. I never thought that it would be like this, I'll share this with my aunt. Thank you for the information about burial at sea.
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