David Salner

First Painting

A boy stands before an easel in the attic,
beneath bare joists, and roughs the battle scene
he’s read about. He mixes flesh tones
from tubes of lemon-yellow and nut-brown,
dresses the flesh in blue or gray, but mostly blue.

He squints to bring the big guns into focus:
cannons pointing at the sky, lamp-black.
He shades the cylinders, to make them round:
gun barrels with ochre stocks; slender forearm;
spindly leg. He creases uniforms,

inks the hollow of a gully. With purple shadows
he molds the blunt, half-buried stones.


The sun is high on this July day, on his canvas,
above a farmhouse like the one he lives in.
He loses focus, because his dog is whimpering
on the stairs, and breaks for lunch and has to listen
to his mother tell him, “Darling, please
don’t wolf your sandwich.”


Back in the attic, the heat bears down.
He paints in dazzles because his eyes
are full of sweat. He dabs a silver glint
on dark and patient iron,

then holds his hand in a salute to block the rays
and sees a row of tiny men
standing in a field of knee-high corn.
One primes a cannon with a broom-like thing.

The boy’s brush hovers at attention, until a lone gun
spits a cloud of pitch on the horizon.

He must work quickly, now, mixing
rose and carbon, making
a carmine paste, smearing it on
blue uniforms where hands are pressed,
those nut and yellow hands, etching
surprise with sharpened pencil lines,
surprise upon a soldier’s face.

The Tourist
Sniffs a waterfront breeze from his balcony,
a hazy mix of oil on water as it warms
at first light. By now, the mist has cleared
from between dank buildings, revealing
a street full of brilliant, wet awnings,
small trees in planters, walls with something
like Coca Cola splashed overnight
in long furls down tan cement.

Puts his coffee down, unfolds a map to find the museum,
where it is, he knows that  by heart,
but wants to see, again, the star that marks it,
the rectangles standing for blocks crammed with
take-out and post card shops. And within a short walk
the blue of the bay. Art, he says to himself,
I can’t say what it is, yet my love for it,
my love has brought me back.

David Salner worked for 25 years as an iron ore miner, steelworker, and general laborer. His writing has appeared in Threepenny Review, Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, Salmagundi, River Styx, Beloit Poetry Journal, and many other magazines. His third book is Blue Morning Light and features poems on the paintings of American artist George Bellows. He has an MFA degree from the University of Iowa.



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