in response to a painting by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, Touched

Will you dance? I fear
the chance won’t come again.
Cold nights and dry days
have loosened our once-
youthful grip & put
a sunset color in our cheeks.
Let’s take a turn, swing
to the wingbeats of the rust-
voiced grackles. Let’s swirl,
break trail for the rain,
for everything good.
Later we can have a tete-a-tete,
escape the stares of those
golden-haired debutantes
& lie whispering together
in a golden bed.
We can dream of increase
in the sleek crops
of nightcrawlers.
But first we must part
from our parent oaks.


Update (10/27): I should explain what I’m up to here. Clive’s painting is his take on the Annunciation, a creative re-imagining of an oft-painted myth. Marly Youmans noted in a comment that she’d never seen an Annunciation in which Gabriel actually touched Mary like this, and the sunflowers and the abundant oak leaves were novel additions as well. Traditionally, the Annunciation is celebrated in March, but the leaves and flowers suggest late summer or autumn.

I thought it would be fun to try an intentional misreading of the painting. My first draft had them as a human couple, with Gabriel as an Edward Scissorhands kind of mostrosity, the wings actually deformed limbs from a partially reabsorbed twin. But the more I looked at the painting, the more I focused on the oak leaves. At first they were simply the occasion for the dance, but soon they took over and the figures at the center of the painting became something like leaf spirits.

10 Replies to “Invitation”

  1. Wonderfully dancing poem, a very original response to Clive’s lovely painting.

    “Will you dance? I fear
    the chance……….”

    I love the sound of that.

  2. Ah ha!!! Well what a surprise this is! You’d said you were cooking with an idea, but I had no idea you were at the stage of show and tell!

    I love this ‘voice of the falling leaves’ approach. What a really GREAT theme. I would never have thought of that. Well done. Beautiful. Just beautiful.

    1. Glad you liked this, Clive. I mean, I didn’t think you’d be outraged at my mis-reading, but I wasn’t convinced (actually I’m still not) that it’s a great poem.

  3. i love the line “I fear the chance won’t come again.”

    the assonance and the internal rhyme (how they’re partnered) really make it feel like a dance.

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