Dreaming of Hopper

Poem by

For the last month, you’ve dreamed

about talking to Edward Hopper. Some

nights you cajole him to share the

secret of his brushstroke. Others,

you press him for details

about how he managed to get light and

 

space and loneliness into “Nighthawks,”

at the exact same time. It must have been the third

time you had the dream you asked why

trapezoids of light appear so

often in his work, as in “Sunlight in

a Cafeteria” or “Conference at Night”

or “Rooms by the Sea.”

 

The fourth: what mouldering secrets

were hiding inside nightfall at Myrtle Beach

that you could sit and paint “South

Carolina Morning?” What was it

made him, a white man, want

 

to paint a black woman? How did

he mix the colors that became

her rust-colored dress? What did

she sound like when she told

him her name? Was it Maybelline

or Doris? Annie or July?

 

But then, your voice catches.

And just as Hopper leans forward, as if

to pull the words out of your chest, you say

After Pleiku, when I knew I would die:

 

Trip mine, sniper, friendly

fire, what saved me was deciding

I couldn’t die until I sat down to draw

my mother’s face as a young girl; before

she had me, before the world shredded

 

her dreams. And every single night you

tell him this, Hopper leans

back, a tincture of sentiment coloring

his skin. When he starts to yield

up how it felt to mix

the pigment that let him approximate

 

light falling on a woman’s

naked thigh, make the canvas

a song we can’t get out

of our head, you wake up in your

mother’s bed to see, in the dull light

of morning, her wheel chair,

its chrome wheels

 

blazing like a question you will never ask.

 

 

 

American Arts Quarterly, Fall 2016, Volume 33, Number 4