Museum: A Collection of Four Works

Still Life with Barn and Plough

Arman Burford
landscape painting with oil and seeds
Iowa, 1933

We’re the people you remembered in that childhood of the young barn, not blood red or too-young-to-know fire engine red, not cranberry red or blushing-about-affection red, and not even ready-for-fucking red, and certainly not that healthy-glow-just-before-you-realize-you’re-dying red.

We’re noticing a lot of brown now, though a little faded, like history, almost sepia, and a little bit of amber, which is even older, and the grass has almost sighed, leaning over with its head of seeds as if to whisper to the earth, which is still hard in the August heat, and not ready to start over, not ready to accept the absence of everything tearing it apart.

We’ve all got our growth stains, and we’re all here in the suggestive details of this painting, with our passing not quite frozen. See how slowly life changes? The last time you looked it probably seemed the same, but it wasn’t. We’re still gesturing to each other that it’s a good painting, with something of the truth about our misperceptions still haunting the edges of the hidden figures, which might have been other people but weren’t and don’t move in the way we have come to believe a rewarding life should, but don’t just fall apart for death either. Behind the yellowing reeds, a pheasant, hiding the one unrusted spot on a dull plough that keeps rusting around it so incredibly slowly that you have to actually think about it to know for sure what you already are. And those few leaves there beside you have fallen, we want to believe, reluctantly from a healthy tree. You can’t see all their colors from this vantage point, wild and quiet with implied knowledge concerning this discussion of those others who are not in the painting.

Stone Flung Thoughtlessly to the Waves

James C. Cameron
pastel seascape on paper
Scotland, 1892

You held me beyond parting and knew not what weight you spent on the waves before falling to others. Our loves are not all visible, and yours, I took for granted, might include me and my brutal freedoms.

No one is ever tied down the way missed opportunity explains, but deeper can still hold, and so you go there at changing angles after skipping the tension and break into life and sink, slide up and back before settling.

I know without seeing and perch to sing silently, where the weight of atmospheres cannot change you but slowly softens your long cold bed. Sleep then, if you can tell it from a far fleeting world, thinking yourself still awake.

Stranger on a Dark Road

William R. Kunstler
egg tempera on board
England, 1847

O Agatha, I offer you mere clues to the poison of incomplete intentions. I wasn’t me, bandy-legged runt leaning ditsy, medieval knees passing the stations of bones, a hazel glen wound round with bracken dense and drear, a bed of rushes woven there where I had slept hard and cold the night before.

And there too sat de-freshening the spittle in my beard, a seriously aging hunter wandering the familiar forest with his gods thrust back into the mind that remembered moon-apples strewn along the donkey’s path, the only demons those demons chased, and I beheaded a horde of frightening grass barbarians to prove myself.

I’ve been foolish and young, and as I age, I shall again be accidental, and wise and foolish as pleasure allows, the same under note of time’s iron bell, and in all this fuss notice the clouds have welcomed us. The thorn pains most when broken from its branch, its departed flower having no more use for it. Only the dead traveler has greater wisdom. Deer and steed both fly from his passing attendance.

This mystery too, then, I begin with but a mop and a bucket of slop, cleaning from tip to tip the body shop left when its soldier strayed too close to glory and left me sudsing the stall of his four-hoofed prisoners with little more reason than I to attend his dependent affairs, as if they accounted for something more than begging from his own inner landlord.

The Catch

Angus Pridall
mahogany sculpture, inset jade and obsidian
Shetland Islands, 1963

You might wish to cover a great fishes’ frightening eyes. There’s a story about them in the back room of The Sailor’s Delight. It’ll make you weep salt.

That friend of yours could still help. Hasn’t he come back from your ancient stare? Call him moss and you might have to plant him. Muscle first. It’s a rule of renewal. You might wish to cover the sharp discarded fins with ants, whose patience may reward you. The bones have their own lives to live.

This is not one of those tales that ends with only a wet apology. But what about that “friend”­ of Sad Maria’s, the one with quail eyes and a knife at his belt? Can you forgive a man that saved you from the pain you wanted most? Already I smell gardenias. You might have to lie to a few of their mothers if you wish to continue. And what will you do with such an amazing hemisphere? It’s not a gift. You should know that. You can hear its cold wings, fluttering. Its cage is not made of only you. It swims further into the light and throws you back. It lasts longer than the salt of the departing.

Photo by julian mora on Unsplash

CategoriesFlash Fiction
Rich Ives

Rich Ives has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Artist Trust, Seattle Arts Commission and the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines for his work in poetry, fiction, editing, publishing, translation and photography. He is the 2009 winner of the Francis Locke Poetry Award from Bitter Oleander and the 2012 winner of the Thin Air Creative Nonfiction Award. His books include Light from a Small Brown Bird (Bitter Oleander Press--poetry), Sharpen (The Newer York—fiction chapbook), The Balloon Containing the Water Containing the Narrative Begins Leaking (What Books—stories), Old Man Walking Home After Dark (Cyberwit--poetry), Dubious Inquiries into Magnificent Inadequacies (Cyberwit--poetry), A Servant’s Map of the Body (Cyberwit—stories), Incomprehensibly Well-adjusted Missing Persons of Interest (Cyberwit—stories), and Tunneling to the Moon (Silenced Press--stories).