It’s the absence of shadow blue which fails the picture,
awareness drying too fast, without the yearning to quench
and passing on bare, unsated, unaware even of its need.
When Navaho weavers starting making rugs for tourists
the distaff thread—that lone discordant note in the pattern
which allowed the spirit to escape unburdened—was lost,
vanishing into government housing and alcohol abuse,
a reservation’s angled roofs serrating the immense.
Now there’s only sun and shadow, nothing left between:
Even the petroglyphs are fading from their rock, elk and bison
bleaching themselves out, the hunters’ stick figures collapsing
into balls like dead ants, tiny waves without any sprawl left,
no longer greeting their ghost kills or even waving goodbye,
patternless stains in the overhanging whose blue shadow
cannot comfort or assuage the lingering assault of light.
It’s what becomes of presence in this vanishing age
and would be terrifying if anyone paused to notice.
It’s not that we cannot see the erasings, it’s just that ghosts
aren’t on the dropdown menus which decide where we look.
Between those links to someone’s fortune there is this:
Would you have the land of shadow so literally dead
not even an abyss distinguishes the one and zero?
Observe the island oasis of a wet nipple dimly lit,
the infant’s mouth half open as he deeply sleeps.
White curtains billow next to a half-opened window,
their soft calm breathing weaving white and shadow
from lungs we can’t see but are. And the ocean down
from the house in midafternoon is blue then green
then darkening, there at the horizon where heaven
anneals earth with stormclouds tall and steelblue
grey and darker underneath where long mists trail.
The fretful shadows of the maker’s overlit hand
were lost when we burned all yearning for the page.
Leaving us this fretful immediacy, this metastasizing
now, a immense vacant reservation bent on whiting
itself out. The myth was lost when we lost forgot the words,
the mouth’s soundhole sealing out the shadow tones.
Our voices now like surf when the window closes,
a ghostly murmur, like sleep without a dream.
Come nightfall none of this will find the minor key
and what’s walking into water won’t look back.
Leaving us tomorrows without seam or sea,
the horizon too brilliant now for what made
the nipple so perfect. Anointing the soft breeze.
Its milk night infinite. So darkly blue & gleaming.
In his essay “Alchemical Blue”—a writing which has colored my poetry since I first read it 20 years ago—James Hillman writes about Cezanne, first quoting Kurt Badt’s The Art of Cezanne: “When he was composing, only a visionary’s or a poet’s imaginative conception … could e of help to him. It was impossible to start out from an isolated real thing seen.”
Hillman continues: “He based his painting on ‘shadow paths and contours’ out of which ‘real things’ emerged as local high points. The imaginative conception, the visionary shadow, originates and supports the real thing seen in nature. “
Badt again: “The deepest color in Cezanne’s paintings, the one which supports the composition and is most appropriate for shadows, is blue … When (Cezanne) used blue in this way, he transcended any special connotation which had attached to its former uses. Blue was now recognized as belonging to a deeper level of existence. It expressed the essence of things and … placed them in a position of unattainable remoteness.”
Hillman: “The blue shadow is the imaginal ground that allows the eye to see imaginatively, the event as image, creating at the same time a remoteness from real things.”
—Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman, Volume 5: Alchemical Psychology, Spring Publications, 2010.