—Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1954
This is where I want to live.
Is it evening, is it morning? I don’t know.
What a mango light, rising from soft stripes
of butter and tomato above a block of plum.
But there’s no earthly food here, no need
for other food than stripes and blocks and hue.
At the base—recalling Brueghel’s scrawny
bushes in the foreground of Hunters in the Snow—
a blurred red-orange feathers upward
into plum. But thinly the fresh mango sidles down
to border all, the way the cosmos is and holds
the stars of which we are a part—though squalid
we are, sometimes, as stars can never be,
nor this man’s art. It’s cool
out there (and here), unutterably cold,
but also warm, and home.
(Originally published in Southern Poetry Review)
In her book, she said the guiding principle
was guarding against irreparable losses;
she’d managed to live so as
to avoid any major cause of regret.
Anyone who’s done that, raise your hand:
you’re excused from this poem.
As for us who remain, let’s go around
the circle and list our regrets.
For the stuporous, self-evading hours.
For off-hand, wounding sarcasms.
For narcissistic hatred of the imperfect
body, which has hampered love.
For fatigued, five o’clock snapping
at the over-amped three-year-old.
For withholding, out of harbored
resentment, the wholehearted response.
For everyday, ape-in-hierarchy,
lies of assent. . . .
But maybe she meant larger,
one-time-only things avoided?
The sale of the family house, say,
an abortion, the laceration of divorce?
But what servility was kept with that house,
what cowardice clung to with the brave
delivery of the baby, what fear of darkness
retained with the long-lasting marriage?
(And is there a word for the regret
of having too few regrets?
There must be. In French?)
Remember that adolescent moment, poised
before first sex—with already,
how many regrets? Who knows the number
of planets where life might start over?
On one, an ocean with a new tide. Trees, maybe?
So beautiful. They grow and fall in one place,
never experiencing irreparable loss.
(Originally published in Ploughshares)