This poem is part of the song cycle I’ve been trying to create with Steve Ball’s band, C3. The songs about artists will recreate an imagined mindset of these artists, reflecting on their lives and art. I think art of any kind forces humans to examine existence in a different way. It makes plain the unique view of the artist; but more broadly, it makes us realize we are unique as well.
Arthur Pinkham Ryder was a worker, as opposed to being a talent. He wanted to be a great artist, and he pursued the goal with fervor. He was careless, though, and the very thing which might have made him a historical casualty is the biggest factor to his fame. Most of his art was skillfully rendered, but he either didn’t want to use conventional techniques, or he was in too big a hurry to use his materials well. The peculiar paint mixes he made were chemically unstable and didn’t always cure. Some paintings would continue to sag and move decades after being “finished”. In any case, most of his work aged badly, in some cases not ever drying, in others, curling and peeling like a badly painted house.
Black Sailboat is based on my imaginings of Ryder’s conversation with himself, the musings as he worked. Like his paintings, I reserve the right to say it is finished…even if it may not be.
Being a bear of very little brain
I push the oil around like mud against a rock
I’m always to be pushing against rocks
Slippering slippery hickory docks
The song I sing slaps against the rocks
Some things are hard to see
The shadows overwhelm them
The light bursts in like anthems
Splashing and marching, marching,
Layer on layer
It’s not my voice, it’s my choice.
Varnish has a curly smell
That settles deep inside my head
My oils will speak to you
Long after I’m dead
I look for the formula the taste of azure
The clang of the cadmium the grit of the pure
My horizon’s a lazy line my clouds are in chunks
They melt in the weather, the weather they are
I stack them in trunks take them off in a car
Like glaciers they move, and my scene comes apart
My girl is a nightmare a shadow with a heart
Sharks and black water float on an oily sea
Everything drowns in the waxy brine
The way ice shifts on a slippery line
Hazard’s in the water. In the deep end.
You know you can’t depend
Cracking.. Crackling, curling trees
I slather the paint and whimper and plead
Watched by the girl with the cartoon eyes
A flash of something in the bushes
Her covered thighs, the wind that pushes
You to look harder, is there something more?
Sepia stories from darkening waters.