Sunday, 22 May 2011

linda bierds

From the Vacuum Tube

Toward the painting Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump by Joseph Wright of Derby, 1768

In a carnival tent, near a village square,
on planks purpled by beef blood and a swirl
of velvet show cloths, a crystal tube shimmers,
long as a chimneysweep's leg. At its top, a coin
and feather wait, their brass clip catching the light
as a crowd gathers. And then they are falling together —
the guinea, the feather — through the airlessness,
through the vacuum space the silent crowd
seems almost to increase, each stunned breath sucked
in, in. When they land together on the tube's
glass floor — the feather, the coin — when they settle
simultaneously, someone curses the devil, someone
bites the coin, someone clips it again
in the tube's slim throat, and the falling
continues, guinea and feather, through the seconds
and days, through the decades,
until Wright of Derby pockets the coin, plumps

the feather to a white bird. He has painted
the glass — more bowl than tube —
and the slender pump, the solemn crowd,
one moon at the window, one moon
in the breast of the dying bird, slumped
on the bowl's glass floor. A girl hides her head
in a candlelit hand. A man looks up to an opening wing,
imagines the lifeless weight of the bird
falling on through the airlessness. No papery sway,
no tumble, just head and breast and tail and wing
falling together simultaneously — a movement so still
in its turbulence, he can find in his world no
correspondent: not the wavering journeys of snow
or sound, not the half-steps of dust or moonlight —
and the bird not beauty, the movement not fear,
although there in the candle's copper light, both
fall equally across his upturned face.


Dick Jones said...

One of my favourite paintings so a sense of trepidation at the outset. But this had me returning to it and seeing it anew. It's a wonderful piece of narrative and commentary, bringing movement and continuity to that scene frozen in light.

swiss said...

i've never been to derby but i believe they have a collection of his paintings down there so if i'm in the vicinity i'll definitely go so when i found this poem i was very happy!