To Laugh or Smile Unbidden
What is this stillness? It is art. The man
is Dürer’s father, but it’s also true
that he is pure geometry, a mass
of black and orange where each ridge and pouch
of flesh, each strand of greying hair, each eye
lets neck and face reflect the brown and orange
of coat and field, the black of shirt and cap.
He is a sea of echoes. There is not
a lot of detail to distract the mind,
just Father on an orange field – more paint
than curtain. And his eye has done its share
of the day’s work. The mouth here is alert,
the jaw is set. The head turns to the left,
the sitter looks our way. It’s not a face
to laugh or smile unbidden, though I won’t
call it unkindly. Five years after this,
the man had died. Yet here he lives for us.
Do we need more than this to make a painting?
More glamour? More event? Or is it so
that stillness draws us in, as if a bloke
chose quiet over noise? And Dürer has
removed from us even the sitter’s hands,
he’s very confident. What we don’t see
is where this art lies: what is taken out.
It’s been five hundred years since first the paint
went on this canvas, that time Dürer’s dad
sat for the painter. He will not speak up,
nor lift a finger. In the flux of time,
the generations have expressed themselves –
they’ve moved about. Not this man, in his coat.
John Claiborne Isbell
Since 2016, various MSS of John’s have placed as finalist or semifinalist for The Washington Prize (three times), The Brittingham & Felix Pollak Prizes (twice), the Elixir Press 19th Annual Poetry Award, The Gival Press Poetry Award, the 2020 Able Muse Book Award (twice) and the 2020 Richard Snyder Publication Prize. John published his first book of poetry, Allegro, in 2018, and has published in Poetry Durham, threecandles.org, the Jewish Post & Opinion, Snakeskin, and The Ekphrastic Review. He has published books with Oxford and with Cambridge University Press and appeared in Who’s Who in the World. He also once represented France in the European Ultimate Frisbee Championships. He retired this summer from The University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley, where he taught French and German. His wife continues to teach languages there.
The Ekphrastic Review
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