“On the Occasion of Solemnity” by David B. Prather

―after Andrew Wyeth’s Study for the Bachelor

Try to see what I see. First,
there must be sunlight.
Not just any sunlight,
but the kind that is only seen
pouring over your shoulder.

And it has to be enough
to dry the cloth, specifically,
the single white shirt
hanging on the line
strung across the porch.

And the shirt must hang
upside-down, fixed there
by three clothespins.
It will appear to be tortured,
those two loose arms

giving in to the loneliness
swept in on an afternoon
breeze. The scrollwork
that frames the porch
speaks a soliloquy

of someone who tastes
the bitterness of time,
who licks the crumbs
from his lips. The wash pan
is the only imperative

waiting below the shirt
to catch its gray shadow
and try to make it as white
as the cuffs and the collar,
the buttonholes and seams.

At the other corner,
a twig of philosophy grows
up behind a leaning board.
No. That’s not right.
A twig of forsythia

just touches the light.
You will not see a shadow
loosed from this greenery.
All of its substance,
all of its meaning stays there

in those leaves. And
is that a cat? Or is it
a black smudge with eyes?
Is it a small universe
with two as yet unnamed stars?

I can’t tell you.
You must determine which of these
drab colors are real,
and which are the flotsam and jetsam
of the life before us.

The weeds must be growing
through the slats of the porch,
and they must go to seed
on their weak stems
in the heat of every summer.

A few loose bits of shade hang down
like ripped fabric from the slats.
They must be there
or the rest of the world
would not make sense

I’m sorry. I mean the world
will never make sense.
I’ve been possessed by a strange solitude.
Look further.
Behind the shirt you will see

a demon hiding
where you would imagine
in the brushstrokes of darkness.
He comes to visit
when you least expect.

Give him room.
Let him breathe
the darkness of the air.
Let him pull on
your clean, white shirt.

 

 

David B. Prather studied creative writing at Warren Wilson College.  He studied with Steve Orlen, Agha Shahid Ali, Tony Hoagland, and Joan Aleshire.  His debut collection of poems, We Were Birds, is forthcoming from Main Street Rag Publishing.  His work has appeared in several publications, including Prairie Schooner, Colorado Review, Poet Lore, The American Journal of Poetry, Open: Journal of Arts and Letters, and many more.

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