"Figures in a Landscape"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
Feb. 2 2010 6:58 AM

"Figures in a Landscape"

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear  Gail Mazur read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.
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We were two figures in a landscape,
in the middle distance, in summer.

In the foreground, twisty olive trees,
a mild wind made the little dry leaves tremble.

Then, of course, the horizon,
the radiant blue sky.

(The maker was hungry for light,
light silvered the leaves, a stream.)

I liked to think, for your sake,
the scene was Italian, 17th century. …

Viewed from here, we resembled one another
though in truth we were unalike—

and we were tiny, he'd kept us small
so the painting would be landscape, not anecdote.

We were made things, deftly assembled
but beginning to show wear—

you, muscular, sculptural,
and I was I, we were different, we had a story.

On good days we found comedy in that,
pratfalls and also great sadness.

Sun moved across the sky and lowered
until you, then I, were in shadow, bereft.

The Renaissance had ended—
we'd long known we were mortal.

In shadow, I held the wild daisies and cosmos
we'd been gathering for the table.

Then the sky behind us pinked and enflamed
the landscape where we were left

to our own reinvention, two silhouettes
who still had places they meant to travel,

who were not abstractions—had you pricked them
they'd have bled, alizarin crimson.

I wanted to walk by myself awhile
but I'd always been afraid to lose you

and the naked olive groves were hovering
as if to surround you.

That was the problem:
I craved loneliness; I needed the warmth of love.

If no one looks at us, do we or don't we disappear?
The landscape would survive without us.

When you're in it, it's not landscape
any more than the horizon's a line you can stand on.

———————————————————March 2009

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Gail Mazur's fifth book, Zeppo's First Wife: New & Selected Poems, won the 2006 Massachusetts Book Award in poetry. Her most recent collection of poems, Figures in a Landscape, was published n 2011. She is distinguished writer in residence in the graduate program of Emerson College.

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