I. Landscape with Yellow Birds
The theories of Love
have become tremulous and complicated.
The way snow falls or Saturn revolves
repeatedly around some distance
where space is nothing
yet still something that separates.
Never mind time. Caterpillars
have turned the fruit trees
into body bags. The children paint
the mandibles of fallen ones with
silver meant for nursery stars.
Without the immense responsibility
of sympathy, these small deaths
are nothing more than
artifice. Like a single magnolia
in a cut glass bowl
we have no idea where
our roots went so suddenly.
II. Architecture in Ruins
Third floor of the doll factory,
ferns suck carbon
and sharper chemicals from air
near the women working.
They’re hunched over tables
of warped wood.
Half of everyone is painting
eyes and lashes on porcelain heads, the rest
are threading hands to sleeves.
Outside in the courtyard
a smattering of doves rise.
Have you ever wanted to
kiss a stranger’s hands?
III. Gardens Without Bats or Moss
Gauguin writes to Theo van Gogh that in his painting he wants to suggest
the idea of suffering—without ever explaining what kind.
IV. In Stone Archways
The light is spilt green milk, which is languorous
as the red monkey Gauguin painted
by the brown body of Anna
the Javanese. At the Chinese Market
I buy two red teacups and a can
of coconut milk. I think—
Gauguin wouldn’t know
how Anna loved that monkey
and sang to him late at night.
Everywhere the sea screams
at me. A great pink slab of octopus arm,
beside it, babies seasoned in orange spices.
Such symmetry! Surely they swam
through the night like thirsty
flowers. I think you had it right
when you said love is the mathematics
of distance. Split like a clam on ice,
I feel raw, half-eaten. I rot
in the cold blue of the ego,
the crushed velvet of Anna’s chair.Editor's Note: Where are the birds in “Landscape with Yellow Birds”? None are mentioned; only distances — between snow and ground, Saturn and the sun, hope and tragedy, love and fruition, chrysalises and the birdlike butterflies that will hatch into the landscape. The space between lovers is the space between wishing for something vague and lovely — yellow birds — or losing it or becoming it. Larson writes, “We have no idea where / our roots went so suddenly” — as though she is falling or flying.
This gorgeous anxious playfulness is typical of “Study for Love’s Body.” The painterly titles would lead you to expect verbal paintings — static, physically descriptive, pictorial — but the poems’ sections are anything but. They’re written to complicate the emotions and ideas of the imaginary paintings their subtitles set up. The poem is less about art and architecture than what we expect of them, and how our perceptions shift with our expectations and emotional investments. “The theories of Love / have become tremulous and complicated,” like the lovers who think about them. —Adam PlunkettKatherine Larson won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize for her first book, Radial Symmetry, which upon publication won the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. She lives in Tucson, Arizona, where she works in molecular biology and field ecology. This poem is from Radial Symmetry, which Yale published in 2011 (and which Adam Plunkett reviewed positively here). AGNI published the poem in 2010.