Triptych for Nighthawks

June 30, 2015

It feels strange to happen upon them
in the heat of Texas:

the man in the pewter fedora,
the broad-shouldered redhead.

Her nearly shuttered lids
betray a distance

as tangible
as the cherry wood counters.

There’s something about the boy
I’ve never liked: how he seems

caught in his own innocence,
an unwitting extra,

whose expression
may as well be a momento mori,

the last grimace of the moth
yearning toward the bulb.

My father hung the print in his office,
an ironic homage to Hemingway’s killers

perched above the rows
of leather-bound law reviews.

Only a venous seam divided the diner.
A range of wrinkles topographically

spreading along the stranger
isolated enough to worry.

Hours waiting in his office,
I’d unfocus my eyes and let

blemish blur the scene into diptych—
the diner on one side

and the sfumato corner where some
shadow lurked on the other.

Easy for vision to divide,
but if art can fashion

the foreign to the familiar,
how can it be trusted? I wondered.

I encountered the painting
again at a party in Aarhus.

The night before
lightning had stitched ash

along the invasive hedge maple
between a doctor’s house

and mine.
When she grabbed my hand,

I was glad to leave
the tree’s chiaroscuro shadow,

how its blackened teeth
turned inward on themselves.

She slurred words
as she pointed to the print.

Only the corymbs flowering
my father’s canvas were absent.

A little bit of home, she said
and leaned in to kiss me,

her lips as familiar and alien
as the painting itself.

In the gallery, the clouds
turned the color of turmeric.

Have you witnessed the sun
set in our country?
she asked

relishing what novelty
she could lay before me—

the martini blue garments
and the yard’s unset bone

horribly charred
and holding up the sky.