-- after "California Spring" by Alfred Bierstadt
The canvas is so large I have to walk four steps
to the right to see the whole valley and to get out
from under the towering cloud. Lit by a sun-flare
it still drips mist onto the green hills.
In the museum's dim light I might bump
into the foreground cow as I watch roving
sun-spotlights cross the hills in the storm's wake.
This land wants to encompass, wants to open
its earthquakes in welcoming chasms
that branch and branch into thinnest air
like the oak's proliferating curls.
Twenty shades of gray illuminate the clouds.
They unroll like smoke, spill fountains
of birdsong you can almost hear
as you wander alongside the river's
cold rustle of alders. America made luminous
by great weather and imperatives of geography
seems to go on beyond the verge to where
we exceed ourselves daily in invention
that creates in the brain long, illumined canyons
of will's first urge. And here we can wander
following them, grandly abandoned
as this overarching purple, accompanied
by the lupine like drops
from a creatively restless empyrean.
This painting is one of the reasons I keep going to the DeYoung Museum. I haven't often posted drafts of my poems online, but it feels right to include this one, as I read Emerson and think about a recent trip to Philadelphia, visiting the splendid new Constitution Center and the stirring, history-brimming Independence Hall.