I took this photograph earlier this year, wandering around the area behind Old Street Station, and something about the colour, the angle, the light and shadow – the ‘blindness’ of it – reminded me of the paintings of Edward Hopper …
… which, in turn, reminded me of this pair of poems, based on Hopper paintings, which appear in my New & Selected Poems, Out of Silence, now available from Smith/Doorstop Books or InPress Books.
1. Edward Hopper: “Room in New York”, 1932
With one finger she picks out the tune
the way her mother showed her,
slow afternoons when the dogs lay aside
their indifferent barking and moths
hung sleeping from the inside of the blinds;
distant rattle of ice inside her mother’s glass
and whatever burned inside her
cold water and calamine could not touch.
In the close air of the apartment she has been
thinking more and more of those times.
The newspaper rustles behind her, whatever
her husband is reading commands his attention.
Although he has loosened neither
waistcoat nor tie, the yellow distemper
of the walls has begun to sweat.
The red dress she is wearing
has a bow bunched high at its back,
like a flower that once, petal by petal,
he would have reached out and unfastened
before her mirrored eyes.
His shirt so white that to turn and look
at it would be to be blinded by the moon.
2. Edward Hopper: “Excursion into Philosophy”, 1959
He has been reading the Tractatus, Wittgenstein,
the footnotes make him laugh; the book open
on the bed, the blue divan. How to explain
the duality of grief and joy, relief and guilt.
The way her breathing, as she lies behind him,
legs drawn up, exposed, her back
not quite touching his, touches his heart.
They have been together fifteen years
and he believes that is enough.
The sun burns low along the ripening wheat
that looks like the wheat in the painting by Van Gogh,
the postcard she bought him that day in Portland, Maine,
and told him if he ever left her she would truly die.
He picks up his book and begins again to read,
but sets it back down, drawn to the window by the sun,
the sound of a meadow lark in the field.
The only signs in the morning they were there
will be her red hair, snagged at one corner
of the pillow; the slight impression, fading,
on the mattress where they lay.