Darkening berries on the hawthorn
thread a sombre key. The nettles dull,
have lost their sting of green. Chill
in the coming dusk signals
An apple drops.
Things are falling away, given
that space –
before pressing in again.
Was it March when pink-and-white
draped a willow bough, lured the eye past
thickening bands of leaf?
A stifled apple-tree was crowding
toward the day –
and still that urge glistens in
the swell of bark revealed
as leaves thin.
The red light winks, bell clangs.
A beaded arc flings over
the dying bramble. Rose-hips.
It was a loft, with all that space
for parties too. Like the space around the table –
there’d always be enough, and tomorrow too.
Mostly we drank green tea and talked.
You saw the David Smith? Djo fills my mug.
Kenji gets up to put a record on. Pink Floyd?
Manhattan far away – or close as
the world outside the gritty window.
Then Jeff and Tomoko got divorced.
Con got a job in California.
Kenji took his bike on a road trip
and hit a fox in Colorado. When he capsized
in all that emptiness, he said as he spread
his photos under the hanging lamp,
he thought, what am I doing here?
I’m Japanese. Someone else said, You can
be alone in a place a long time.
The words gave shape to our new drift.
A month later we took Kenji to the airport.
Jeff got a ticket for speeding on the way back.
Djo and I agreed to celebrate his birthday
at a Carl Andre show of forms of crumbling earth.
I was puzzled. Shouldn’t art last? He shook hair
out of his eyes. His lovely sudden smile. No.
Nothing is so real to me as the illusions
I create with my paintings –
He’s painting away at Pygmalion.
The sculptor’s roll-neck is cobalt, trousers olive;
he gestures, mouth wide. Nothing is so real
as his Idea, who seems to be emerging through
the stained-glass of an endlessly refracted thought.
One thigh is scarlet, one lime-green and cerulean;
an oval flush nestles near the pelvic basin.
St. Mark’s Place, New York City. Half a lifetime ago.
I’m between apartments, sleeping on the couch,
have come in late. It’s hot, windows up,
shutters wide. The strip-light glares.
A large insect whirs. Dad is still at it.
I’m thinking of you with wonder
because here in St Sulpice, where
I came hoping for a postcard of Jacob
Wrestling With The Angel, my hand picked up
a pen and wrote a prayer for you in French.
Priez pour Rex Ashlock, I wrote, (forgetting
God could translate), peintre exceptcionnel –
then got peintre wrong, I later realised.
I went back, shyly riffled through the basket
of folded scraps to correct my prayer. You would
have smiled at the vignette. I can see you
picking up a brush to paint a whimsical Prière.
At the Louvre each Delacroix refracts: the grey dawns
when you went sketching at the race-track
come into Arab Horses Fighting in a Stable.
Algerian Women in their Apartment ooze a luscious ennui
worlds away from your edgy nudes, yet
weren’t you both painting vehicles for dreams?
I watch the light fall on one side of a guard’s face,
which gleams with undertones of green,
madder. The other cheek is a dark plane.
We talked about Delacroix too
in the bare warehouse corridor where
clipboard in hand you sat in a director’s chair.
We were measuring the paintings for an inventory.
He did a lot of drawing in the Jardin des Plantes.
Your voice caressed the French. So much
more evocative than ‘zoo,’ I teased.
A portrait of Susan Sontag came to light,
and I asked surprised, Did you know her?
No, it was from a photo. Appropriate in a way
for her, of course, but not the same.
There isn’t that ongoing dialogue.
On this beautiful day in Paris
I stand before the unfinished Portrait of Chopin,
thinking how the dialogue with ‘that good-natured fellow’
was still going on. I have forgotten your phone number.
This morning you weren’t in my mind at all until
my hand picked up the pen and wrote a prayer.
You loved Jacob ‘and his tango with the angel.’
I can hear your voice telling me just inside St Sulpice,
turn right – he’s on the chapel-wall.
I turn left into the home stretch humming
a song learned when I was about seven tick tock
tick tock and rarely thought of all this long
while since my life’s seconds numbering
pathways back through the brain’s treasures
after the hug I gave the girl from thirty years ago
across the road bumped into when I double-parked
to nip into a local shop – family? your Mum? Tick tock
tick tock and off again to the post office, station
errands in short you might think would guillotine
a brief moment buying lettuce but no
here I am passing their old house humming
the tune two girls were singing one summer dusk
as they practised a dance-step on the lawn