I was drawn to this piece while walking through the VMFA on lunch yesterday. The variety of climates layered on top of one another struck me, specifically the palm tree and a snow capped Mount Chimborazo in the same image. It almost seems ridiculous when you first look at it.
The painting itself is a composite from Church’s field sketchbooks from a trek through Ecuador. I admire the brazenness in combining the imagery. The final product is dreamlike.
One morning, before the leaves began changing I caught a piece of summer and poured it into a pitcher;
This I placed in the cellar on a shelf collecting dust . Autumn, then winter, rose up from the sea, and my Garden was a garden filled with unbroken snow.
No flower strained its face to the ice giants’ whisper, No life coloured the vision of a newborn Spring babe. My cellar-water dripping into a pail
And I lifted my piece of summer Like a piece of memory or a dream
Like these, caught on film And carried it to the garden floes, The wind turning drifting stars to madness.
Poured forth gracefully, this ctheric tincture Lifts winter’s coat-of-arms with coaxing aromas and electricity. Used with vigilance, a Pitcher of Summer stirs a memory into swooning, And bravely, the flowers of the past will stretch their limbs into the sky While snow falls quietly all around.
Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio by James Wright
In the Shreve High football stadium, I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville, And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood, And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel, Dreaming of heroes.
All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home. Their women cluck like starved pullets, Dying for love.
Therefore, Their sons grow suicidally beautiful At the beginning of October, And gallop terribly against each other’s bodies.
This poem has been sitting in my draft box for months. I guess I didn’t have much to say about it.
In Wheeling this summer, my grandmother spoke a lot about the steel mills. Her short term memory fading in and out, she asked several times if they were still open. They’ve been gone for a long time. The towns are practically dead.
This poem was published 1964. It’s tragedy has only grown with the closing of the mills, the hollowing out of the towns mentioned. They don’t run barefoot in the streets anymore. They don’t swim the Ohio River, dodging barges in the summer heat. They just make it the best they can as one year rolls into the next and the jobs gently trickle away to Columbus and Pittsburgh. It was never a place I loved, but a place I realize has always been a part of me.
I remember sitting on bleachers on a cold November night watching Central Catholic’s football team in playoff game against a cross-town rival. I remember the dull click of shoulder pad against shoulder pad, the muffled yawp of play formations being shouted through rubber mouth guards, the tired chants of rally girls shivering in the cold, floating up into the air alongside my breath, illuminated by the buzzing floodlights, swirling in the night with nowhere to go.