Poetry: Silk Screen | clivejames.com
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Silk Screen

Furnished across a table,
The long provisions of midafternoon:
The cups, according as each tongue is able
To stand the heat, more or less full, and strewn
About a slewed and wrinkled
Expanse of damask that is crumb-besprinkled

With biscuit, scone and cake,
Freighted with plates and variously stained.
A gathering suffused with the slight ache
Of an old familial boredom, unexplained,
Transacted intimately.
Behind the group the windowed estuary,

Which until now had been
Delayed among such subtleties as those
Played out inside, too dull to make a scene,
Emerges from its featureless repose.
Now as the winter light
Sinks yet one more degree into respite,

Its talcum powder greys,
Ranked far towards the city, screen on screen,
Bewitchingly detain what they erase,
Assembling a new scene from the unseen,
So that the pooled and pleated
Spread of river, tree stencils, mist-deleted

Bluffs and bays, the tiers
Of suburbs from the foreshore’s basque of foam
Up to the foothills—everything inheres
Ghosted behind a wash of monochrome.
A shadow light invades
Cloud, water, slopes: so many Chinese grades

Of columbine and pearl,
Layered against a parquetry of pewter,
Gunmetal plates and sheets of faded merle.
Uncolours lost to colour, rendered neuter
(A glintless skyey sheen
Of eau de nil that is bankrupt of green,

A Copenhagen blue
Deprived of blue), obsessing concentration
By drawing each declared outline and hue
Into a hushed grisaille of intimation.
Through mantling of matt silk
Seeps a pine rumour. Drowned in shadowed milk,

Loomings ride up and swim
Of breath-faint hulls and mastheads. Over there on
The docks, some gantry stain behind the scrim
Stands groping. Steeped in day, a half-guessed heron
Silently intercedes
Among the lead-lit shallows where it feeds.

And now, melting as if
Oozed from the river’s deep to its bleared bank,
One solitary blush mark, a rose gliff
Of sun, escapes the cloud on the mountain’s flank
And instantly instils
A drop of dye that quickens where it spills.

Absorbed into the screen
They’re ranged against, the figures face to face,
Sipping and mumbling cake, chatting between
Mouthfuls, become still shadows at its base
To at least one pair of eyes,
For which the window mounts its final guise.

The sun cannot resist
Showing the flag of imperial Japan
(Except translucent, moted with the mist),
Whose bars of apricot and salmon fan
That band of liquor which
Their deepening audacities enrich.

The river’s ash and nacre
Are flooded where the crimsons grow across,
And as those figures dim to simulacra
Tableaued in black, the screen redeems its loss,
Ransoming in red
The colours afternoon had forfeited.