words

Painting Mental Images with Words

Imaginary Paintings
by Lisel Mueller, from Alive Together 

1. How I would Paint the Future

A strip of horizon and a figure,
seen from the back, forever approaching.

2. How I would Paint Happiness

Something sudden, a windfall,
a meteor shower. No
a flowering tree releasing
all its blossoms at once,
and the one standing beneath it
unexpectedly robed in bloom,
transformed into a stranger
to beautiful to touch.

3. How I would Paint Death

White on white or black on black.
No ground, no figure. An immense canvas,
which I will never finish.

4. How I would Paint Love

I would not paint love.

5. How I would Paint the Leap of Faith

A black cat jumping up three feet
to reach a three-inch shelf.

6. How I would Paint the Big Lie

Smooth, and deceptively small
so that it can be swallowed
like something we take for a cold.
An elongated capsule,
an elegant cylinder,
sweet and glossy,
that pleases the tongue
and goes down easy,
never mind
the poison inside.

7.  How I would Paint Nostalgia

An old-fashioned painting, a genre piece.
People in bright and dark clothing.
A radiant bride in white
standing above a waterfall,
watching the water rush
away, away, away.

Poetry Can Help Us Live with Death

"Poetry does seem to be especially good at certain things. For example, we are all going to die. Poetry can help us live with that. Poems are made of words, nothing but words. The particulars in poems are like the particularities, the personalities, that distinguish people from one another. Poems are easy to share, easy to pass on, and when you read a poem, you can imagine someone's speaking to you or for you, maybe even someone far away or someone made up or someone deceased. That's why we can go to poems when we want to remember something or someone, to celebrate or to look beyond death or to say goodbye, and that's one reason poems can seem important, even to people who aren't me, who don't so much live in a world of words."

~ Stephen Burt, from "Why People Need Poetry," TED Talk, June 2013 

See also: