APAD: Courbet, by Debra Allbery

Saturday afternoon in the two-hearted woods. Clouded brow of the upper midwest, sepia season stalled again at February. Out my window, scrim of hardwoods, a dark choke of pine. I’m in a lamplit corner, reading a book on Courbet.

Then a memory like opening to a random page—a café back east, early, a window table. I saw myself looking out at the courtyard, sprinklers fanning the green lawn, and closer, the loose stacks of white patio chairs, cabled and locked together under the half-awning. Sparrows would fly into the spaces between the metal lattice seats. They’d stay there for minutes, as if they were safe, invisible.

There’s nothing of Courbet, no grottoes, no half-canvas sky. Here the sky hovers close, its gray blanket flying just over our heads as if it’s been fastened down a few miles to the north. It pulls away along the horizon at sunset, the light there flaring riotous or else blind mute yellow. A raised window, a breathing space. Some mornings a low roof of fog traps the cattle, their dark bulks folded beneath its drift.

Though I recall one wide autumn dawn. I had driven down a deep-rutted road to see the horses. It had stormed the night before, water standing in the fields, the last of the low bruise-black clouds were dragging eastward. And through them, beneath them, in their wake, the clearest wet light. Every blade of grass caught it. The horses stood close together, a dark S-band against the gold, held still by the stillness, their heads bowed.

Like Burial at Ornans. The dense curve, the tight frame, every face a page torn loose. The mourners pressed between the firmaments.

I am a lover of narrative and striking imagery. No question, then, why I enjoy this poem. A novel exists here, between every line. Allbery is particularly talented with narrative and striking imagery. Another poet encountered late in my reading years.

This single piece could be used to inspire a month of writing prompts, or more. Just another reason to save it and  savor it.


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