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Yerra Sugarman | The Nation

Yerra Sugarman

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Yerra Sugarman

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Sounds that twisted
around the room like smoke,
bludgeoning, blossoming,
where I did not want
to find them, but I find them
over and over. Father,
bless your hair.
Bless your hammer
and your no-song whistle,
your voice, your strange
language--embarrassing to me
once. Too lyrical, too vulgar.
But father, bless your hair:
sculptural, short, black
lamb's wool, steel wool
like your voice--gravel
underfoot when I'd walk
home from school. Bless
your voice, the gravel
underfoot, your hammer,
your strange language twisting
like smoke, biting like a snake
the head of which I wanted
to stroke or crush with my heel.
And your whistle father,
and when you'd stop
whistling, suddenly,
in the middle of your work,
as if something had cut
away the part of you
that wanted to sing.

In later paintings--

a Brueghel, a Dali--

a hill could also be a breast

grazed by clouds, the breast

of a woman lying on her back

facing heaven. But in this painting

by the Osservanza Master

(about whom nothing is known,

not even his real name)

the hill is just a hill

beneath an arch of cirrus,

although it swirls like cream

to a soft peak, although it hides

a distant church blushing in the dusk.

I love this painting,

no larger than a leaf

of notebook paper.

Its sharp thin brushstrokes

shiny as currycombed hair

drinking track-light.

And I love the story it tells:

Saint Anthony Abbot tempted

by a heap of gold. Stranger than any

hill transformed into a breast

is that the pile of gold has vanished!

Yet the Saint is still

so distinct you could lift him

off the panel. His hands cupped

like a calyx holding its flower

he gazes downward

at the damaged place

where the gold has been,

where now a small pink ghost lingers

like a kiss on the hillside.

But it's hard to know if he's still

surprised by the temptation

he'd once found at his feet,

or by the rabbit crouching there, forever

bearing a tree rooted in air.

Or is he simply amazed

that what he never had was taken away