I haven’t painted in two years. But I recently rewrote a couple old memoirs as a poem about painting, and it felt like time to take some pretty colors and make a big splashy mess in the kitchen again. The blank canvases in my office won’t paint themselves, after all. The working title for the painting-in-progress is The Legend of the Frozen Coast, partially in tribute to the Frozen Coast painting I sold on Craigslist a few years back.
I don’t know what other painters think about when they paint, but I have been imagining The Legend of the Frozen Coast as a pirate adventure story starring Meteor Mags’ great-grandmother and read on a radio program. Explore Nordic debauchery in the icy wastelands! Witness the fate of a ferocious kraken frozen in a glacier for 10,000 years! Set fire to a fleet of brigands and mercenaries! Throw in some insults and salty language from The Pirate Primer that arrived this week, and the tale almost writes itself.
A storm hammers the forest.
The wind rips down his tent.
He can’t make any sense of it in the dark.
The painter drags his sleeping bag to a rock ledge.
It gives no shelter but is clear of the trees.
Electricity tears the sky to shreds.
The rain carries out its assault
not in drops but one continuous torrent.
He huddles in the soaked bag for nine hours,
powerless and small.
Stillness, yet never-ending motion.
The calm shadows of trees on a lake
draw lace stockings on a nightmare.
The struggle for life rages below the surface.
A bee caresses a flower intimately.
He cares nothing for the coming storm.
He is within her and she is within him.
They are one and the same.
Step away from industry. Obliterate
the underlying colors and textures
even when they persist. Use an avalanche.
Give them landslides. Drench them in
thunderstorms of black and broken skies
until they recede. The painter and the canvas
are the cyclone and the shore.
You don’t need to paint this canvas at all.
Do what comes naturally. The painting
will take care of itself.
This poem appears in the collection Inner Planets: 50 Poems by Matthew Howard. Available in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook.