En Plein Air
Everything tends toward landscape, to pastoral idyll, with clouds like mustaches. An
ox-drawn cart so noncommittal, you could see right through it. Do our husbands kiss
us after we eat leeks, asks the man selling purple carrots grown in an imaginary
landscape. I would legit live in a Gainsborough, spying on a conversation about
bandaged wounds & bad book reviews. In his secret formula, you lay the shadows
down, then dip the entire sheet in skimmed milk. In a 1773 letter to a friend, the artist
wrote, swear now never to impart my secret to anyone living. Skywriting, a belletristic,
sisterly wish. Purple carrots grown in an imaginary landscape, the monarchic orange
tuber not yet invented. I look in deep to Hackert’s Mansplainer by the Waterfalls at
Tivoli, ink washes rendered directly from nature. You can’t zoom out from the Etsy-
cute castle. A want to cat-bomb John Robert Cozens & there’s a definite chance I’ll
do it. Modern cloud worship, a New Jersey writer in a New York garden. The cult of
nature is like my second-favorite cult. Every oak’s an oak I saw in Louisiana live and
growing, Mobile, Alabama, the storm still caught in its leaves. In the line vs. color
debate, I side with the abandoned landscape, I push against the advent of space.
Usually location doesn’t matter, but this poem takes place in Union Square, because
we tried to take a selfie and we failed at selfie-hood. The day is frivolous. The day is
broken. I write it down en plein air, I write it down with no incentives. And Turner is my
yoga, Turner makes me understand why people buy art, his colors slow my breath, my
pulse, but that guy keeps blocking my view, leaning his head in too close
as if to drink the water
I am skimming the edges of Turner’s watercolors, which are my favorite song.
I am spending too long in a small exhibition.
I am looking for the sea monsters and falling in love with orange.
I am buying new bowls and plates, all orange.
I am reading a commonplace book beside the easel.
I am Rachel in the sentence and there’s the Turner, and there’s Rachel.
I am peering at the hills from a corner window.
I am talking about Ullswater, Cumberland (1835), which John Ruskin called the most perfect peace.
I am graphite and watercolor on paper.
I am, like Joseph Mallord William Turner, a Taurus.
We nestle our horns together in the morning fog.
We produce more than we consume and consume more than we should.
We rise early or sometimes terribly late.
We add honey and coconut milk to the coffee and write a poem in declaratives
while the scorpion child sleeps in our bed, his forehead burning,
while a distant train lets its whistle slide through the cold air.
Rachel Feder is an unromantic Romanticist and assistant professor of English and literary arts at the University of Denver. A hybrid prose work, Harvester of Hearts: Motherhood under the Sign of Frankenstein (Northwestern University Press), and a new poetry collection, Bad Romanticisms (Astrophel Press), are due out later this year.