• Vol. 10
  • Chapter 05

The Bigger Picture

Stilleven – “an art that points to the human by leaving the human out” (Mark Doty)

Who would widen the canvas to reveal greater opulence?
Who might include a parrot, imported from the tropics
to squat on a perch and watch us with a conniving eye?

Who might have been tempted to boast of more crystal,
silver, a South Seas conch, plinth-mounted, presided
over by a miniature mannikin; another couple of lemons,
awaiting a parer’s knife, more grapes or peaches to dangle
from the table, more nuts to roll to the floor, more legs
of meat, more drapery, more cherry-picking samians?

Who would have had the bravura to display a samovar,
smuggled from a Crimean dacha or a Tsarist palace?
Who would have shown ornate piecrust, disgorging

unspeakable filling, even as merchant vessels offloaded
unmentionable cargoes, trafficked to northern halls
from the shores of Africa, along teeming trade-routes,

in tar-timbered hulls under sails of billowing white?
No one is shown to own all this. A fringed dining chair,
upholstered in velvet plush, well-padded, sits vacant,


The Bigger Picture

except for the ghost of a damask tablecloth, gushing
its whiteness over the seat like a breaking wave.
The chamber orchestra that serenaded banquets

has vanished, a quintet of instruments abandoned,
haphazard on the floor, a score lying open, unsettled.
But who cares what remains unmentioned when –

eclipsing the small crabs and upstaging the clipped
white canine – this big, glossy-red, pronk lobster
lords it over the scene, gives voyeurs the dead eye?