Monday, July 18, 2016

`Their Temporary Heads of Yellow Crepe'

Sometimes, despite proverbial wisdom, you can judge a book by its cover. Take Compass & Clock (Swallow Press / Ohio University Press, 2016) by David Sanders. On the cover is Sunrise by Jeff Kallet, an arrangement of quadrilaterals -- some straight-edged, some ragged – a circle (which presumably accounts for the title) and a half-circle. What makes the grouping of shapes so pleasing are the colors – denim blue, pumpkin orange, black, newly poured concrete gray, moss green and a circle of red. Some artists have a gift for colors, contrasting them, bouncing one off another, creating symmetries and asymmetries that please the inner eye. In Kallet’s palette, yellow is most vivid, a deep yellow like egg yolks, aspen leaves in the fall, taxis and sulfur. The poets of such yellows are Klee, Matisse and Mondrian. Across a lifetime, each of us assembles a private library of associations with various colors. For me, yellow is soothing and suggestive of life itself – what green is for many. Alexander Theroux in The Primary Colors: Three Essays (1994) sees things differently. Of yellow he writes:

“It is the color of early bruises, unpopular cats, potato wart, old paper, chloroflavedo in plants, forbidding skies, dead leaves, xanthoderma, purulent conjunctivitis, dental plaque, gimp lace, foul curtains, infection and pus (`yellow matter custard, dripping from a dead dog's eye,’ sings John Lennon in `I Am the Walrus’), speed bumps, callused feet, and ugly deposits of nicotine on fingers and teeth.”

Yellow shows up sparsely in Sanders’ poems, which should not surprise us given that he lives in Central Ohio, a muted landscape of color. In Texas, his work might be spattered with yellow. He notes forsythia and a school bus without mentioning their color. He likens piano keys to “chipped and yellowed teeth.” In “Unattended Consequences,” the speakers and a neighbor visit an abandoned settlement in the woods, where all that remains are the flowers planted by the long-gone inhabitants. The neighbor says:

“`Timbermen—who knows when or why—
tried to settle here, built some houses,
then disappeared. Left just the daffodils. . . .’”

And the speaker comments: “Such curiosities should be passed on / to kin, not just the guy across the street,” and adds:

“In all fairness, though, he chanced to tell me
just because the daffodils were up—
their temporary heads of yellow crepe
both maverick marks and mockery of survival—
the afternoon we saw them in the woods.”

“Mockery of survival,” yes, but survival nevertheless. That’s yellow, despite the hint of cowardice.

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