James Mele




Living Art: On Wyeth’s Monday Morning

All is white in this picture, or shades of white,
And delicate shadows on the ground and walls,
Everything except the pale ocher of a wicker laundry basket
Leaning slightly atilt against the straight vertical
Of the rain pipe on the corner of the old farmhouse.
You sense bare, winter fields, just out of the picture’s view,
Stretching away from the house to a treeless horizon.
It must be a lonely place, you think,
Where the silence echoes with unspoken longings.
A soft, March light falls out of the east
And splashes against the white-washed side of the house.
It slants through space at just the right angle
To flood onto the contrasting horizontal plane
And strike the basket propped against the back wall.
The morning sunshine bathes it in an aura
That strips the basket of its mundane domesticity
And transforms it into an almost sacred vessel,
An ark of intimate, household secrets.
The sun pierces the interstices of the canes’ intricate weave
To purl an even more intricate pattern of light and shadow
On the ground and the slant of the bulkhead wall,
A yard to the left of the empty basket
With its one clothespin in the dark bottom.
Somewhere not far off, only steps away you’d imagine,
There must be a clothesline with a whole family
Of sheets and shirts and pants and dresses
Billowing in the brisk March breeze and filling up
With the perfume of the early spring’s sweet air.
The white cellar doors at the bottom edge of the picture
Are cut in diagonal halves of shade and sun
In a final chiaroscuro-like flourish.
If you looked through one of the dark squares
Of the window panes just above them,
You might see the woman of the house
Sitting there in an apron at the kitchen table,
Her chilled hands around a coffee cup,
A loose, wind-blown wisp of hair falling across her eyes.
The clothes cleaned and hung on the line to dry,
She steals a moment of calm
To gather her strength for the next chore in her routine.
She stares straight ahead without seeing you there,
Lost in the slight ache of her scattered musings
About another time, another place
Days when her life was different,
Perhaps, thinking about the handsome boy
She once knew back home, a boy with a laugh
As pure and honest as water rushing over rocks,
Who went off to war and never came back.


The Well

There seemed no reason for it to be where it was,
Though there must have been, as with all things,
A history to it, a purpose for which someone once
Thought it was needed enough in that place to build it—
The old stone well in old lady Bond’s backyard
Where we quenched youth’s unbearable thirsts.
Though we never had explicit permission to use it,
In our minds our parched lips and tongues
Were the perfect cause for the well’s existence.
Red-faced and sweaty from racing our bikes
Or playing tag, kick-the-can, or red-rover in the street
Under the Saharan sun of summer afternoons,
We would file down the narrow path through the perfume
Of a whole hillside of lilies-of-the-valley
And swarm around the well like the bees among the flowers.

Boys will be boys and would-be alpha males;
There was always a squabbling competition
Over who would prime the green, iron pump
And who would work the handle
To claim the right to drink first
When their exertions made the water finally flow.
The rest stood around like wilted flowers
And savored the thought of the cool, dark depths
Of the earth that the water would rise to them from,
As if their thirst alone could call it forth.
One by one, we stepped up on the bench
That ringed the stones of the well’s masonry
And showed off our muscle as best we could,
Arm wrestling with the pump handle
To fill the glass that was always atop the well.
In the end each in his turn guzzled his fill
Of what seemed something more than water,
So sweet and rich in minerals it was, so cold and clear
It seemed like Niagara cascading down our throats.
The elixir slaked our thirsts with a refreshment
That for a moment made our bodies somehow new
As we passed the glass in sated good will,
One to another, like a communion cup.



James Mele is a graduate of the Antioch International Writing Program and of the Anglo-Irish Studies program at University College, Dublin. He has published poetry, fiction, and articles in several periodicals in the U.S., Ireland, and England. His first book is Dancing in Eurynome’s Shoes (Antrim House Books, 2017). He currently lives in Connecticut.










                                    

 

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