Linda Bierds

ABC Minors
March 25, 2022 Bierds Linda

ABC Minors
–after the painting by Peter Blake


Painted in oils on wood, the entire composition
extends to the viewer art’s great and illusive
aftermath:  an outward-looking inwardness.

*     *
Although they are there looking out at us,
they are here looking in:  two schoolboys thin
in their flannel shorts.
Spell paradox, the tutor says, then find
its definition, here in the Reader perhaps
or there in the open field.
The boys prefer the open field.  And although
they are looking out at us, their heads over-sized
in the style of naïve art, soon they will enter
the yellow grasses that stretch forever
behind them.
*     *
There is paradox in mimicry, the tutor says.
The self erased preserves the self.
That is today’s lesson:  when threatened, the harmless
copy the harmful: the moth displays on its open wings
great, fearsome eyes, or the burrowing owl
rattles like a snake.
The boys prefer the owl and will listen
for its self-contradictory truth, although they
will never find it and will turn in time
to the Reader.
*     *
It lies between Bunting
and Butcherbird (the fabric of the former
festive, the outcome of the latter
loss.)  Quite small—slightly larger
than a pine cone or child’s fist—it lives
in a landscape of absences, a brushwork
of shrub and pale grasses.  Unlike its greater
other, it hunts by day when nesting
and nests in borrowed burrows
and burrows in borrowed voices:
the chattering range of a rattlesnake’s hiss.

*     *
How different they are.
One boy, the tall and tidy one, looks out
toward the tutor, who stands close beside us.
The other, short, tie-less, belt loose in its loops,
looks into our faces.  Because his great love
is dogs—on his jacket, lapel pins glint
with triumphant breeds—he imagines himself
in the field, bounding and breathless.
The well-kept boy imagines himself erased.
*    *
In earlier times, canvas was primed
with the glue-skin of rabbits and layers
of milky white.  Wood received a chalky wash
to better grip the ungrippable soul
that rests in the passage
between viewer and saint.

*   *
All afternoon we have followed them,
the taller boy stomping the earth, the shorter one
thrashing the grass with a stick.
Their black jackets sway as they walk–and
although the schoolhouse is far in the distance,
they are drawn by its presence, as we are drawn
by the pale sky and seam of horizon.
Now and then we imagine a hissing, just
to our left or right—no, not a hissing
but something electric nevertheless:
benign and electric and undefined
up from the russet ground.

Linda Bierds’ tenth book of poetry, published in 2019, is The Hardy Tree.  She teaches at the University of Washington in Seattle.