David Chorlton – Four Paintings and Five Poems
In a wooden house on midsummer night
a woman is washing her hair.
She bends across the bowl
and runs her fingers through the stream
of black. The trees outside are rustling
and the water in her hands
rings twelve o’clock. She sits up straight
and looks into the mirror
that floats from room to empty room.
How beautiful I am, she whispers,
and in her chest the clapper
strikes the fur-lined walls of a bell.
When the spinsters rise in the night
to sip from their wide, white cups
they fold the sheets on their beds
as if creasing a letter
and tune their radios to the station
playing the same smoky songs
hour after hour, year after year.
How lonely the spotlight must be, they think,
how bitter the gin
that flavors the voice. And they float
across the moonlit floors
in their chrysanthemum gowns
from kiss to porcelain kiss.
As bells peal for midnight from a hundred towers
in the rain, the amiable drunks going home
stop to listen with their faces tilted
like dishes positioned to catch the notes
as they fall. They spread their arms for balance
and never look down. The bell of Saint Nicholas
addresses them by name, saying it is time
to think of their wives already asleep, and the bell
of Saint Charles has a voice so deep it carries
all the way down to its brother metals in the earth.
Yes, it is late, says the old bell of Saint Ursula,
too late to turn back. Each of the drunks places
a finger at his lips and turns to the one beside him
with bubbles of laughter puffing out his cheeks.
Flies are airborne drops of honey
backlit in the windows
where the dust of summer drifts
into a room on the afternoon heat.
Exhaling old kisses as they sleep,
a husband and wife lie still
and dream of brandy
maturing in the fruit trees.
The grandmothers sit with their hands
in their laps, waiting
for someone to talk to, each of them
alone at the window
of a wooden house.
Some are ninety years old, some a hundred,
some are immortal. When the houses burn
from around them
with stories filed inside them
of that other time. When the forest
dies off, they are monuments
in their chairs, still
watching for a stranger
who will approach and ask the way.
They remember every path.
Take the one down to the stream, they will say,
turn left where it bends
and walk straight ahead, but first sit down
to rest the way you used to;
smoke a cigarette with me,
I have kept one for myself and the last one for you.
Author’s Statement on Beauty
Having grown up in the 50s and 60s in a drab industrial city, Manchester, I left England for Vienna and life in scenic Austria. I learned that beauty has a surface value in Viennese public buildings, while the romance of the city fades when one shifts to the apartment blocks with their claustrophobic courtyards. Life took me to Phoenix, where I still, after forty years here, recognize sunlight as the first ingredient of beauty. The spare beauty of the desert continues to bind me to the area, and it also highlights the fragility of so much we regard as being beautiful.
Music opens up more dimensions of beauty. I’m not given to appreciate an excess of sweetness, so I appreciate the necessary interruptions to harmony that grant a work tension, whether a Mahler symphony or a Tom Russell western song. My tastes are wide ranging, with some blind spots, but I especially like the expressive qualities in baroque music (I’m married to a violinist, which helps my education in these regions of art) and the poetry-music combination in medieval troubadours. Which leads me to poetry and the beauty in language, which is in part the beauty in ideas. Poetry is a more formal way of thinking for me, although I appreciate the way writing can straddle the casual and deliberate aspects of language.
As much as I have led a life in art, there is nothing more essentially beautiful to me than birds and other wildlife. We have a few coyotes whose nonchalant presence on our streets is both startling and graceful. In the canyons of southern Arizona, I have often sought out certain birds, a Gray hawk or Elegant trogon, whose plumage is ever a brilliant shock to the sense of sight! The trogon doesn’t have a pretty song, more of a croak in fact, but by association even that becomes a beautiful sound.
David Chorlton is a transplanted European, who has lived in Phoenix since 1978. His poems have appeared in many publications online and in print, and often reflect his affection for the natural world, as well as occasional bewilderment at aspects of human behavior. A recent collection of poems is Bird on a Wire from Presa Press, and The Bitter Oleander Press published Shatter the Bell in my Ear, his translations of poems by Austrian poet Christine Lavant. A new book, Reading T. S. Eliot to a Bird, is out from Hoot ‘n Waddle, based in Phoenix. More at: http://www.davidchorlton.mysite.com