Elegance

by Fleda Brown

Feature image: After Luca Cambiaso. Sibyl in the Clouds, after 1570. The Art Institute of Chicago.

I thought I had hold of something elegant, a luminescent glow
on the lake, a flicker’s flash of headdress high on the tree.

I thought I heard a conversation from over water, someone saying
laissez faire, or Toulouse Lautrec, but it was only guys fishing,
a mishearing that came to me like a ray of light through stained glass,
a shimmer like a fine line of Milton’s, or a landscape by Monet,
applied in layers.

What I wanted was something privately
apprehended, something slowly and privately understood:
elite, yes, I admit it.

A pontoon boat came by and I remembered how old I am,
how I would rather be on one of those, studying the accommodating
landscape as if it were a museum, than on water skis, for example,
terrifyingly public and sudden, which is why I’m fond of

the Turneresque, or of an aspen leaf, half-unhinged over and over,
a sibilance of rhythm that works the atmosphere the way
Noah wavers the sailboat rudder back and forth to inch toward
the gust.

I don’t know the name for this maneuver.
And when the wind completely stops, there’s the small slurp
against the side of the boat that’s exactly what I mean,

the delicacy of the mundane, observed
and properly incorporated in service to the whole.

Another example at present: the gull has adroitly
caught in its beak the tiny bass Noah just tossed back,
and is carrying it flapping, sunward.


Fleda Brown’s tenth collection of poems, Flying Through a Hole in the Storm, (2021) won the Hollis Summers Prize from Ohio University Press. Earlier poems can be found in The Woods Are On Fire: New & Selected Poems, University of Nebraska poetry series, 2017. Her new memoir, Mortality, with Friends will be out from Wayne State University Press in fall 2021. She is professor emerita at the University of Delaware and was poet laureate of Delaware from 2001-07.

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