In 1842, unable to still his panic
at the stormcloud that was about to
consume the 19th Century,
John Ruskin invented JMW Turner,
who, in turn, invented light.
Not the light of the Sistine or Toledo
but the clouded light of an eye for gravity,
a love of particles and suspense,
the light we see and are seen through.
Ruskin learned his art on a rug,
on his hands and knees, alone.
There is pattern in discipline
and in the reverse.
There should be in this letter
I have tried to write for a year; always interrupted
by rumors of wars and your latest.
Alone now, I start again, arranging proportions,
diminishing loss. I will finish.
Turner did his best with age,
when he could hardly see at all.
With a flourish, I keep this:
I remember you best in London,
at the Tate.
You were hung over
and smelled like beer in an ashtray.
I don't know what I wanted,
but you could have been more.
(One hand on the balustrade,
wielding his brain like a ferule,
the valance quiet beside him,
the tea unnoticed on the tray,
Ruskin etherealized doom.
His muse charged in him
like an Etruscan horseman.)
"I couldn't find the map
back to your friend's in Highgate,
or figure out how to use the phone.
Even after all these years
I remember everything so clearly."
(The peacock filigree, the porcelains,
the objects at the hearth, now apparitions;
all breezed through the gap in which the critic
and his find emerged-the Perseides
showering all over London and dazzling
the already weakened eyes of Turner.)
"They shouldn't have let you in there.
I shouldn't have been with you.
I can't believe
I still need to tell you
how much I was not-seeing you
(JMW paused absently in the vapors,
resumed his brush and prospered.)
Time in glass is time everywhere
the little parts in motion in their own
and slowly, slowly.
Darwin could not delineate
a denied changing of place,
the reliable, unperceived disorder
at the heart of assumption.
A bell jar, after all,
should be still;
Issa's snail must surely think
Mt. Fuji would stay put.
This science is not easy:
supposed solids flow,
Adrift is adrift,
no matter the denials in place,
that I come to things late,
that I have to be shown,
After a dying spring
we went to the beach.
Slow to leave,
your ashes commingled
with my hands
showing me how the harder parts
dissolve in their own:
some in the Strait
some still in Dungeness.