Vanitas

~ “Our ease, our thrift, our honour, and our day,
Shall we for this vain bubble’s shadow pay?”
—John Donne, “Love’s Alchemy”

~ Boke (暈け or ボケ), “blur” or “haze”, or boke-aji (ボケ味), the “blur quality.”

*

Vanitas is the other name of everything
in Harmen Steenwijk’s still life

with leather-clad wine flask, brocaded scabbard,
nautilus shell, curling filament of vine. Candlestick

whose little flame was recently snuffed out; wooden flute,
stack of books, two crossed white smoking pipes,

a pewter goblet on its side. Even the reflected
cross-hatch of window light affixed like a wobbly stamp

to the goblet’s cheek is nothing compared to the teeth
that serve like armchair legs to that solid centerpiece

of skull— All that’s left of the beloved, sweet
mummy, possess’d at one time and ungirdled.

Count the circles and the flecks of shine, small
as spindles in their bubbled drift up flutes

of champagne— like the ones we linked forearms
to drink from, as onlookers cheered our toast.

And it’s so sweet, that fizz and heat going down
the throat; laced with pear or orange, those fruits

which bruise so easily when they fall from their own
voluptuousness, from trees laden at the height

of summer. It takes a patience I don’t
always have, to reproduce that sort

of picture, a talent for transferring
light’s furtive qualities to what can be

seen or touched: one stroke and cadmium
white becomes sheen of pearl, skin of bubble

floating above the bowl. In photography there is
a similar technique called bokeh, which renders

to the backdrop a blur or haze— Layered in orbs
of varied tonality, the subject’s at once

the idea focused sharply; and a feeling
caught in the net of a vanishing field.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Land escape.

Leave a Reply