Coatscape and Mr. Begley

Sandra McPherson

One eighth of an inch across –
one pedal of the yellow field. 

Or each with a green strap narrower
than a hospital bracelet, sedges

raise the height of a marsh.
The entire estuary could leak

drop by drop through cupped hands,
egret's beak, or a shed's mossy roof as rain.

Beyond, grain by grain,
subjewelry, the sand – 

rock in note form.
On the cliff top, thrift: “dense terminal head 

on naked stock.” Or “naked foot stocking” the sea's chamber? 

And poppies: “colorless. Colorless” –?
No, carotid, perilous, couldn't be less 

like business
Jag by jag

the poison hemlock's leaves. Then bulrushes’

as nested redwings scare.
A blackbird is flying into a heron's tail –

plucking and punching, it bides
there for a second

of a second, pulling a quill or,
deeper; in hind-flesh,

and the heron does not fly
or swing around, but bears

its eye lonelier,
steps in a glide

from shallows to shore
to wear the helm goose of a flock 

lowers its neck
in a curl of rejection

And the million barbules
of the Great Blue vanish

into a summer fog of panicles,
gold-green, gray-lavender spikelets

of tufted hairgrass, spreading lovegrass.
Woman, this is the landscape all through which

you have left your sight,
your sight you have dropped is a car

came rushing toward you, your flawed mediums
to which you paired binoculars;

your wet living lenses trained
above each nasturtium (close your eyes, 

you get a morning glory),
your sight with which you measured creek depth

through dark glasses, your vision you
broke to shoals of smashed cast-up at the strandline.

All through these floating you have left
your invisible seeing

that counted seventy-four fishing boats,
thirty-five brown pelicans,

seventy kites on one string,
sixty-five pocket keepsakes from the sea.

Your scanning
is transported with the sand

from beach to beach, deposited in an ocean canyon
no one has ever seen, where privacy you can hear

the panoramic sounds break down:
the lisping bubbles

flying fly apart, pods chatter
in the yellow lupine, the snake your foot tips off

escape, the heron silence –
conscientiousness, exposed.

Then you hear Mr. Begley's voice,
each little botanical correction.

“I am a painter,” he says.
Certainly he has known the landscape

by the eighth-inch. Skunkweed's pomander
is caught on his fly-line. Socrates

is dying in his umbelliferae. And
everything immediate to him is small: bees carry

landscape on them, birds drop it
from the air; filaree

miniaturizes war; damselfly hovers
gratified as a needle over a new scene

or a tearing about to mend.
Little pimpernel hotspots,

hatched and housecleaned cliff swallows' eggs
blood spattered as a man's bad shave,

dunegrasses' hlaf-circle sweeps
sanding away woodgrain of homes.

Antique ink on butterflies. 
“Because I paint,” Mr. Begley said. Good for him –

I have no excuse for looking.

Sandra McPherson is a poet, lecturer, and recipient of the Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship.
Originally published:
April 1, 1992


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