Autumn’s Silent Auction

Donald Platt Click to read more...

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Donald Platt’s fifth book of poems, Tornadoesque, is forthcoming from CavanKerry Press.  His sixth, Man Praying, will appear in 2017.  .  His fourth book, Dirt Angels, was published in 2009 by New Issues Press.  In 2011 he was awarded a second fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a third Pushcart Prize.  His poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Salmagundi, Prairie SchoonerNotre Dame ReviewCrazyhorse, Ecotone, Black Warrior Review, Seneca Review, Southern Review and Best American Poetry, 2015.  He is a professor of English and teaches in the MFA program at Purdue University.

                             It is written in the folios
of foliage starting to catch fire, burn, turn to yellow, red,
                             or orange flames

that everyone will fall, flutter to the ground, and be ground down
                             to nothing more
than least leaf meal in a winter overcoat’s dark pocket.

                             At 92 years old
my mother, amateur watercolor artist, feels the forest fire
                             that rages through

the hills around Great Barrington kindle her cold bones’ marrow.
                             She’s had a new
furnace installed, whose forced hot air will blow her warm this winter

                             and fan the fire
within her. She wants “to find homes” for her last 60 watercolors
                             before she dies.

“They’re like children,” she says. “I want to see them go
                             out into the world
and make their way. Or at least someone else should lug them

                             to the dump.
Not me!” Hung on her white walls or stashed in cupboards, closets,
                             black leather portfolios,

or under beds, she is surrounded by her paintings like a matriarch
                             in a family
reunion photo. Here are the places and seasons she’s lived through.

                             Within a shady park
along a Parisian boulevard, two lovers kiss on a blue bench, wrap arms
                             around each other as if they

aren’t watercolor, but Carrara marble. A woman in a yellow skirt
                             swishes, bewitches
watchers, sashays by, holding the hand of her thigh-high daughter

                             dressed in a red
smock. April, 1954, and the plane trees spread the green
                             jigsaw puzzle

of their new leafage over everyone. A red car passes, then
                             a green one. The afternoon
is stop-and-go. I turn around. On the wall behind me

                             I see purple New England
mountains in winter. For the foreground’s snow my mother used
                             the negative space of blank

rag paper itself. The gray calligraphy of a frozen creek
                             winds me
toward a weathered, rust-colored barn and silo, behind which

                             stand an outbuilding
and farmhouse with darkened windows. The bare trees’ branches
                             vein the sky,

blotting paper ink-splotched with blacks and grays, plus a few russet sunset
                             streaks to match the barn’s
warped boards. Dusk, below zero, and no one ventures out

                             into this
inhuman cold. Within the clouds’ dark Rorschach, a slow
                             giant caterpillar

with two horns crawls. Last night I programmed for my mother
                             a telephone
emergency help system. If she falls in her ground-level

                             condominium and can’t
get up, she has only to push for four seconds the red panic button
                             on the white plastic pendant

she wears about her neck and her telephone will dial 911.
                             “My watercolors will
be scattered farther than my ashes,” she tells me. “I have

                             pictures all over—
California, England, Hong Kong, China, Dubai. Why I
                             had someone come up

to me at an outdoor art show years ago and say that he saw
                             one of my paintings
in a New York City condo that a realtor walked

                             him through. He asked
if the watercolor came with the condo. The realtor said no.”
                             My mother estimates

that over the years she’s sold 600 pictures at the outdoor art shows
                             she used to go to
every summer. To get rid of her last paintings, she gives them

                             to silent auctions
at church bazaars. “Once a woman stood all day in front of
                             my watercolor

and wrote down a bigger bid whenever someone else’s
                             topped hers.
She wanted that picture so! I forget what it was of . . .”

                             My mother shows me
the painting she plans to donate to the Congregational
                             Church’s Christmas

Raffle & Rummage Sale. A gray gravel road leads to a tiny
                             white house
about to be swallowed by the maples’

                             40-foot high
flames. Tomorrow morning I’ll say goodbye to my mother
                             and drive my rental car,

a white Chevy Cobalt, back to the airport. Outside her window
                             brittle brown leaves
almost cover the lawn’s gray granite outcrop left millennia ago

                             by a glacier. “How much
will you bid,” wind murmurs through the eaves, “for each charred leaf?”
                             I would give my life.

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