In Hopper’s desolate scenes the streets are deserted
and only all-night diners offer a retreat for the lonely.
Deep in the woods few customers call at the gas station,
and they stop only because they are lost. The couple
who live behind the pumps seldom speak to each other.
Back in the city, rooms are little more than rented cages
for the near naked who stare out all night, only the breeze
and touch of a thin curtain responsive to their longing.
Josephine posed for such pictures, but lived in them too,
confiding to her diary that Edward had “nothing whatever
to offer the normal human female.” She had been model,
mistress, shopper and cook, bill payer, warder-off
of intruders who sought only his autograph, never hers.
She could not “humanize” this man, whom the public
saw through rose lenses. Her hunger strikes left Jo
ever more defeated, scorned, ignored. The merest request
gave him a chance to deny her. She dressed in thrift
store rags and had modeled naked for three decades,
letting him depict her “as tall, short, fat, lean, old—what
a collection!” Yet she rebelled and one day withdrew
her hands, telling him to go copy the Old Masters. When
he died she sat by his body, his large hands dangling.
“No waiting for me,” she wailed, “that’s just like you!”
In Chicago, nighthawks of a new millennium
gather around the painting of a silver diner that will never
close, as if one hour with a cup of coffee might console.
[from december magazine, Winter, 2013
Copyright David Ray, 2013]
Wallace Stevens Walking
Wallace Stevens was often observed
by his neighbors in Hartford. Oh,
yes, the man was noticed each week-
day morning as he passed in front
of houses where Venetian blinds
with slats tilted for the looking out
offered a view of this familiar sight—
the insurance executive strolling
toward his job, almost always with
his right hand held in front of him
as he tapped thumb and forefinger,
a seeming twitch or obsession
as he mumbled about who knew what.
Could it be just the monotony of life?
His neighbors knew quite a lot indeed
about monotony, or they might not
have been excited to watch Mr. Stevens
as he strolled daily toward his job,
tapping fingers as steadily as the sea,
each little wave advancing in its turn.
They knew naught about counting syllables.
Nothing in their lives was more exciting,
and they never came right out and asked him
why he tapped or why he now and then stopped
and gazed into the distance, his hand stilled
for a few minutes before starting up again.
This ritual never changed, a mystery.
[from december magazine, 2013
Copyright David Ray 2013]