In the care package they sent for Epiphany my parents included a packet of postcards they had found in a box in the attic. There was a packet of cards from the Sistine Chapel in a Vatican Museum bag, a set of Marc Chagall postcards, and a set of Van Gogh postcards. The packet Van Gogh cards had a museum ticket stub in the bag, dated April of 1994. So these must have been postcards I collected during my semester abroad at the University of Dallas. I went to Amsterdam (and many other places) on my spring break. There was a Chagall exhibit in Rome that I went to one rainy weekend even though I didn’t know who Chagall was. It was there and so was I and I fell in love.
Anyway, this image of the bridge in the rain was among the card in the bag. Now I recognize the source more than the Van Gogh, since this woodcut by Hiroshige is included in one of the songbooks I regularly read to my children. It’s funny how you see the same piece of art in different ways at different times. How you come to know an artist and can’t recapture the first naive experience of the picture itself. I wonder what the 20 year-ago me saw when she looked at that painting long ago not knowing the Hiroshige that inspired it.
Neither of these pictures really has anything to do with this poem, though the idea of painting on rice I suppose put me in mind of Japanese cuisine and culture and that reminded me of these pictures.
But the “you” in the first stanza is totally me. Guilty as charged.
Lines for painting on grains of rice
By Craig Arnold
You are the kind of person who buys exotic fruits
leaves them out on the counter until they rot
You always mean to eat them sometimes you rearrange them
rousing over the bowl a cloud of tiny flies
How do they balance the parrot who chews a walnut
sideways holding it up in his right foot
the owl perched on a just-lit lamppost
scratching behind its ear like a big dog
Your pencil eraser wears down long before the point
for every word you write you rub out two
Where the slice of toast rested the plate is still warm
a film of fog little points of dew
Love is like velocity we feel the speeding up
and the slowing down otherwise not at all
the more steady the more it feels like going nowhere
my love I want to go nowhere with you
I cannot bring myself to toss the cup of cold coffee
you set down by the door on your way to the taxi
all day I have sipped it each time forgetting
your two tablets of fake sugar too sweet
Running down the street
dodging between raindrops plump as cherries
The ground was feathered with wild strawberries
I picked seven as many as I could bear
I ate two I saved the rest for you here
hold out your hand take them taste how sweet
Please hold me the forgotten way the wall pleads
spray-paint face and voice of a damned poet
the darling damned poets save them from themselves
maybe it is us they need saving from
Source: Poetry (October 2013).