He painted a busy picture
On a red ground
Perhaps with figures, – anyway,
A lot of white bits, – and then
After god knows what
After god knows how long
With a scrawny brush
Stabbed it black
Like creosote slobbered layer on layer
To caulk out all light.
Traces of the painting remain:
Some bruised red edges,
A hair’s scratch of white scroll
Showing through. The puzzle is –
Why didn’t he throw it away?
He gave up all public statements
Withdrew his manifestos
Swore off all criticism for life
Refused to speak of “Art”
And, fearing a nervous collapse,
Went on a rest-cure,
A European cruise.
In New York, stacked for six months
Its face to the wall
Hooded in a turpsy rag, the vandal scrawl
Gathereed its darkness together
Sucking in all matter.
He came back, sweetly forgetful,
And discovered a glow
In the obliterating black.
As his fear abated
He saw the possibility of a truth:
If you did not reject this, if
You accepted …?
He picked up a sable and touched
The soothed absence of all things defined,
Helped it announce itself in the world
For what it always had been.
What could you paint in the foreground?
Here was a deep field
Out of which should grow
A resonant image, something magnificent.
He stared at it for weeks, until it did.
He did not put anything on it.
You could not put anything on it.