Arts & Culture · Poetry

Poetry Sunday: The Pigment of Time

Hunger motivates desire that is serious, yet sometimes playful; terrifying, but not perilous. We bounce and roam, finding sanctuary between the “true breadth of tiny” and a “kingdom of wheels.”

11144299463_1b2dfc30c1_zArt: “Monarch Mosaic” by Steve Corey via Flickr (Creative Commons license) 


By Amanda Turner

All art is hunger still. Summer is not its season.
And so in autumn we are drawn to aperture, to opening
books of photographs where we recognize the vertigo
of our yearning and praise the permutations of anything
reckless enough to make us burn. In Edward Steichen’s
“Drizzle on Fortieth Street,” we see New York City stretched
by light and rain. All verticality. As if we only have two choices
in this life: to rise or fall. Are we no different than the empires?
Is our hunger a magnitude we cannot bear? The first winter
in our new home, something slow and heavy took residence in our attic.
Insidious, it moved with great intention. I feared its scale.
(Experts had me believe it was a ghost.) Until the night
I saw a masked face at our bedroom window. Startled,
I moved toward it, and it raised its paw to me.  
It has been said that any given moment is but an accumulation
of past intentions. Is all hunger—all art—a hand held up to a screen?
In Thomas Struth’s “The Restorers at San Lorenzo Maggiore, Naples”
two women and two men, restorers of 17th century religious paintings,
gaze at us from their tableaux of Genesis and Ascension,
Archangels and Crucifixions. All verticality.
Rise and Fall. Are they teaching us something about humility?
About the storeroom of desire? They know that magnitude
is what makes intimacy possible. After all, they have touched the wrist
and the spine of God. They know about layering. The way our lives
are stacked. And that to understand anything of scale we must peel
the pigment of Time. A friend’s son, whose birthday is approaching,
tells me that I will give him his littlest and his biggest presents. The littlest,
he says as he holds his fingers no more than a centimeter apart
and squints his eyes to show me the true breadth of tiny,
is a plastic snake. I am afraid of snakes, I say. But it’s plastic, he says,
teaching me fear’s accurate size. The biggest present, he says, is a truck with wheels,
lots of them. If he could stretch his arms all the way around his back
to show me the number of wheels he has in mind, he would.
When I lift him in my arms to show him how soft a bridge can be in waning light,
he looks, but quickly squirms out of my arms and runs back inside dreaming
of his kingdom of wheels. When, I wonder, do we learn that the address
of any landscape is that we move through it? From here, the water glimmers,
closer up it fans. Peacock feathers, I write, Klimt’s intimate embrace.
To the touch, cold. When do we begin to prefer the indistinct promise,
the dazzle, bountiful distance, steel melting into light? When I was a child,
I remember seeing a tree lift from the ground. Really—a thousand butterflies
lighted from a tree into the sky like sparks from a fire too large
to contain. Monarchs, we rise and fall. But what we seek
is transfiguration. To sit in the almost dark with others
and see what is scintillant between us rise.

This poem appears by permission of the author.

Amanda Turner holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University. Her poetry has appeared in various publications, including Calyx, The Western Humanities Review, COLUMBIA: A Journal of Literature and Art, The Sycamore Review, Fourteen Hills, and others. She has taught poetry writing and composition & rhetoric at Santa Clara University and has been an assistant poetry editor for Poetry Northwest. She currently lives in Portland, OR with her husband and their four-year-old daughter.









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  • Fiona February 1, 2015 at 6:41 pm

    Dense on the page and gorgeous in the ear. “Monarch” merits multiple readings. Thank you.