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Still Life with Hatchet and Picasso

By
June 23, 2005

 

Today is paintings and chopping kindling.
In this still life by Morandi—its chalky whites
and greys, its bowls, carafe, its milky lemon
and turquoise citrus-squeezer—everything
seems quietly determined to disappear
on us, wishing itself away, yet there to the hilt
of being there. Now the hatchet clicks into
a split log; the duller thump when the log
won’t split, the hatchet sticks, and I hit it
a dunt on the concrete path till it’s free:
more clicking as the sticks slice off. Air
around me quivering with winged ants: out
of nowhere they drop to earth like prisoners
jumping a wall. They scuttle about,
then take to air once more, blundersome
novices. Leonardo’s Head of a Girl gazes
down through her silverpoint hatching
of shadow, highlights mapping her face
a creamy grey: she could be, it seems, a soul
drifting into and out of mist, half-lidded
eyes about to open so you know she’ll
see through you. The blunt hatchet-head
nicks my finger, draws no blood. The midden
of kindling gleams in cloudy sunshine
like bloodless, dismembered flesh and bone:
it is the heart of the matter, dried to lightness,
getting ready for the fire. Not all the geometry
in Uccello’s Battle of San Romano —lances di-
agonal and horizontal—can take the white
blaze of fright from the horses’ eyes or lighten
the weight of chaos, muffle the awful clang
a man in armour makes, crashing from his saddle,
death-rattling. Did magpie Picasso, I wonder,
pick at this for Guernica? Tossing its shapely
figurations to unimaginable winds of war,
heaped limbs quick-chopped for kindling?

 

Eamon Grennan is from Dublin, and a member of the English Department of Vassar College. His critical essays have been gathered in Facing the Music: Irish Poetry in the 20th century. He is the author of a volume of translations, Leopardi, Selected Poems, and his most recent collections of poetry are Still Life with Waterfall, which won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize for 2003, and The Quick of It (2005).

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