His eyebrows bristling with the James Gehr stare,
half Irish, half wild man, sculptor, man of art,
a gentle gentleman somewhere inside,
he shifts his easy-chair alive with thought
compressed and jubilant, full up with fire,
and barks his lifetime out at me and mine.
"My hero Frank Lloyd Wright was wrong," he says.
"Art shouldn't blend with hillside, tree, and gulch.
It ought to hunker down into a man-made mood
and make that mood alive with line and mass
that sweeps away the thought of hillside tree
and leaves a sense of mind's cerebral
touch/movement with and against the world."
I laugh. He's old and bristling with his age.
On Sunday morning last he thumped his heart
and said his pacemaker sometimes hummed
inside his chest in tune to heart-beat thumps.
Then, with a grin, he cocked his English hat
askewer on his head and went outside
to mount a jumper bought in Tennessee.
My heart hummed frightened as the horse
and rider blurred themselves above the jump
against the crystal blueness of the sky.
"I've got some thoughts about art myself,"
I say. "But only some agree with yours.
You're getting old. You've sculpted with a grace
that's made a thousand stones breathe life.
But still, both you and Wright have let us young
go crazy with organic/wild designs.
I've got a sonnet for you--"Asses Song":
half black, half light, half leprachaun and joy.
He grinned and shifted in his chair again.
"You're wrong and right," he said. "You're right to say
these artists, poets, fools, and other beasts
have taken things too far. Their spirit's wrong.
When Pablo went to Daley's Chicago square,
he took the city's money with his con-man's grin
and built a joke that had his genius-touch.
Today your youngsters take our salt-spiked-beer
and think it's wine religiously conceived.
And then you take my thoughts on man-made mood
and try to raw them up so that you feel
like sublime gods whenever you write crude
or paint or sculpt to reach the vulgar moods
that guarantee reactions in your audience.
"You've not the spirit Taliesan had.
Sometimes I'd walk with Wright into the hills
around Spring Green when night was coming on,
and with a sudden twist he'd swirl his cloak
and jewel up the night with silver stars.
Those nights I'd leave the hills afire with hands
and make a model of a horse that moved
as if the stone were liquid gracefulness."
"When are you going to sculpt again?" I ask.
A sadness deepens in his shining eyes.
Above his head the famous Hiroshige print
that Wright gave him burns red and black with clash
against the wooden warmth of walls thrown up
when he was sick with faltering, erratic heart.
"If you're an artist, art is in your bones,"
he said. "Some clay, a moment, and the clay
begins to form into its mass and line.
I'm tired, that's all, and no one seems to need
an old man's art. They want crude moods so gross
they twist and tear apart the real world.
If there's a need, I'll sculpt. If not, well. . ."
He spreads his hands in supplication, grace.
A restlessness slips quietly into the room.
I get up from the couch and look outside.
The pines are dark against the gleaming snow.
A lady cardinal, fluffy orange and shy,
sits calmly on a dark, thin maple branch.
"Art reaches beauty too," I say. "Or else it should."
He gets up from his chair and stands by me.
I feel the power in his stance, his mood.
"Art has to get its meanings straight," he says.
"It can't go stumbling through the world lost, mad,
or on a binge of priestly incantation-songs.
If beauty's all you're after, go outside
and spend your life beside some glinty lake
shored up with pines and animals and birds."
I laugh and turn to him. He grins mischievious.
"I thought we'd agree on that at least," I said.
"I'll grant your meaning. Robert Frost meant well,
but often beauty strains against his meaning lines."
"Still, beauty's secondary," he insists.
"It has to have its place. I'll give you that.
But beauty's not enough. It always fades,
and then your meaning, shot with moods built up
to give your meaning punch, has got to stand.
I like a deer as well as any man.
To me a deer is beauty moved on hooves.
But still, a deer's a deer without a man-
made move to give its meaning sculpted life."
"You mean you're not a naturalist?" I say.
"You're tiring me," he says. "You're like the bull
inside the sculptor studio of life."
We both laugh. Tentatively he touches my hand.
"I've got to go," I say.
"You're hard on me,"
he says. "You like to burr me in my side."
"A sculptor sculpts," I say. "An idler sleeps."
His eyes are sober as I shrug into my coat.
"I'm getting old," he says. "I'm getting old."
At home depression settles down on me.
I try to write, to capture art and life
and mood and movement with my ballpoint pen.
But nothing comes. My discipline is weak.
A sculptor ought to sculpt away his age.
A writer ought to write away his youth.
They shouldn't wait for age to paralyze
their will and hands and mind into a cell
of waiting day by day by day by day.
At last, in desperation, I go to bed
and contemplate my wife's sweet, peaceful face.
The phone jangles me awake at midnight.
I fumble in the darkness for the ring.
"Hello?" I say
"You've gone to bed," he says,
an accusation barbed into his voice.
"It's after twelve," I grumble at the phone.
"I've done two sea-horses rising from a wave,"
he says. "Two sea horses racing the foam."
"Really?" I say.
"You'll see tomorrow," he says.
The phone clicks dead. The darkness moves with life.