(Mass MOCA Summer 2001)
After wandering the glory of forested Berkshire hills,
we stop one morning at a modern art museum,
a converted factory in an old industrial town.
On the promenade to the entrance
we pass an unassuming row of maples.
Our eyes catch the glint of green above our heads,
where they should be – and we stop in our tracks.
The trees are upside-down,
hanging from cables strung across poles.
They grow earthward from metal tubs,
trunks pulled gravity-straight
leaves clinging in midair, so it seems.
This is a Magritte painting come to life –
the familiar presented incongruously.
Water drips like IV fluid from hydroponic pots
to grateful foliage below.
We marvel a moment before we proceed,
but the message is delivered:
“Welcome. Come in. See how we
have played with the world. Take a look.
And take a look again.”
The needle turns almost imperceptibly
counterclockwise, as an air mass approaches,
carrying thunder over the lake.
The face of my instrument reads
“Stormy”- as if I must be informed
of this when rain batters the windows
and raw light slices late evening sky.
I do not take weather well –
my mood and courage fall
with the pressure, as cold air
rushes in to battle the warm,
artillery all along the front.
I hunker into the couch, waiting
for the skirmish to end, as it pushes
the needle farther downward –
29 inches, 28 – then just as suddenly,
stops. The storm rumbles off
to another county, and I regard the face
of my barometer, which already
has begun to creep into “Change”.
My mother’s ashtray was made of glass,
a big square crystalline chunk
heavy enough to cause a concussion.
She filled it in the evening
as it commandeered the kitchen table
and measured her habit in ashes,
counted it in butts that she could view
through the glass from any angle.
Gray wraiths of smoke roiled
above her, trapped in the dome
of a faux-Tiffany lamp that hung
from a chain in the ceiling.
Next to the ashtray, a tumbler
full of highball sweated out
the summer night and drooled rings
onto the table top. She sat there
till midnight, staring at a spot
on the wallpaper with her good right eye,
and trying to forget the throbbing
from her left eye, swollen shut.
Bruce Niedt says: “I am a “beneficent bureaucrat” from southern New Jersey whose poetry has appeared widely in print and online, most recently in Writer’s Digest, US 1 Worksheets, Shot Glass Journal, Edison Literary Review, and the anthologies Best of the Barefoot Muse and Prompted. My awards include the ByLine Short Fiction and Poetry Prize, first prize for poetry at the Philadelphia Writers Conference, and a Pushcart Prize nomination. My latest chapbook is Breathing Out (Finishing Line Press).”