The Tumbling Box
C&R Press, 2009

Praise for The Tumbling Box

Selections from The Tumbling Box

"The Tumbling Box"

"Turner’s Yellow"

"Virgin and Child with a Dragonfly"

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Turner’s Yellow

In “The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons”
   J.M.W. Turner may as well have dipped his brush
      in the flames racing across a prairie’s acres,
         his canvas gives off that much heat,

the same sulfurous haze blurring,
   scumbling my Midwest, his Thames,
      the blaze that starts, the wind that carries it
         until everything’s molten

on the artist’s brush, the fire runs away
   from the torch that set it.
      Turner’s yellow. Is it any wonder
         the artist tried to rein it in,

taming it to gild a river’s surface,
   then turning it bronze as the sun
      seen through mist?
         Bridge, tower, he must have said,

as if to keep from disappearing
   what he could still recognize
      through the smoke surrounding the boat
         from which he watched Parliament burn.

Witness. As he claimed he was later
   aboard another ship, in a blizzard so fierce he knew
      he’d be swept away if not lashed to the mast.
         Four hours he was bound, he said,

not expecting to live, but determined to record it if he did.
   What? Not wind exactly or waves.
      Not only the jaundiced light about to be snuffed out,
         says his brush. Hostage to no form,

what rages at gale force held him.
   But longing to make a home for it
      in the visible world, Turner called his painting
         “Snow Storm—Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth

making Signals in Shallow Water,
   and going by the Lead.
      The Author was in this Storm on the Night
         the Ariel left Harwich.”

Thinking of Goethe’s color wheel,
   the sun that’s a fireball,
      I imagine how Turner must have begun
         a painting—needing like me

to burn away what grows up
   unwanted, weedy, making it harder
      and harder to see the horizon.
         With the idea of starting over

I begin as if I were lighting a backfire
   that’s slow to catch, downwind,
      thinking creek, bluff, road, ditch,
         careful to contain the burn.

At this point wouldn’t Turner
   still be hearing the carriages
      outside his studio windows? A theater
         of vendors, clocks striking the hour,

then critics, children
   he’d prefer not to remember,
      the racket getting louder, then harsher—
         who can bear it he thinks—

until the wind shifts
   and the Author’s alone with a canvas,
      his landscape, nothing to stop
         the headfire blazing within.

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