That Single White Sail at the Prow of Oblivion


Selections from a 2007-2010 street series, names with the following poem and stories by Isabelle Eberhardt in mind. See more of my work for the street here.



 Martin Johnson Heade’s The Coming Storm, 1859
Joyce Carol Oates

Oblivion was a familiar blue sky, once.
and the lake, too, familiar though now turned to ink.

That border of marshgrass luridly bright!
Sun-glaring amid darkness as a demon eye.

If it’s 1859 you believe, probably,
in the radiant soul. That single white sail
at the prow of oblivion.
Or are you, a man in shirtsleeves, that solitary rower
in an invisible boat? Straining at the oars and never to reach shore.
As by quickened pulsebeat the end-of-things
blows out of the fabled Northeast.

Oh, oblivion! That gnarly tarry taste.
That smell of airborne wet. You won’t have time even for prayer.

Or have you become a paper cutout in red shirt,
beige vest, straw hat, a figure jauntily seated
at the edge of the nightmare lake?
A fisherman? That’s what you are?
And your little dog?
At the edge of the pit?
Oh, where are the adults who loved you,
and stood guard?

Impossible to conceive of our own deaths.
Oblivion before, and oblivion to come.
Words in the mouth weak as spittle.You’ve never needed to shut your eyes to not see.
Darkness surrounds you, seeping into the brain.
It’s a beautiful painting, in fact.
Long forgotten, this fearful ink-lake.
The artist was a Romantic it’s said.
The artist is long dead, and long
forgotten. Yet, the coming storm!
How fresh it is, how we yearn for its taste!
It is the final brushstroke,
it is the end-of-things.
Out of the fabled Northeast.

Oates, Joyce Carol. “Martin Johnson Heade’s “The Coming Storm,” 1859.” Poetry 176.3 (2000): 156. 
Citing this page:
Solomon, Alana. “That Single White Sail at the Prow of Oblivion.” Ortolana Studio & Press. Ortolana Studio & Press, 13 Oct. 2016.

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