Mary Blood Mellen’s Field Beach, Stage Fort Park, 1850’s

Poem by Kathy Knuckles Barbour


Mary Blood Mellen, Field Beach, Stage Fort Park, 1850s, Spanierman Gallery LLC, New York


     The light is different, more diffused and eerie than anything you’d get in a Cole painting. 

      There is something special, too, about those cows in the foreground. . . . 

                                —Morgan Meis, reviewing “ ‘Remember the Ladies’:   

                                   Women Artists of the Hudson River School” 


The light is eerie and the cows are strange 

in that both are what they are and nothing more, 

so it can’t be Thomas Cole.  God (big ceegar, 


wind in his hair) is neither here nor there 

coursing down the river.  Neither is there Arcady 

or Empire spoor—not a column, not a pillar 


of smoke—just an enigmatic rock form, square, 

center foreground (really diamond, bias-turned) 

and a sweet hint of manure, grass’s consummation, 


no more decadent than fish rot in raw, fresh-water smell, 

no more desolate than picnickers in hook-and-eye corsets,  

gasping for air.  The cows have on no underwear 


and bask inside their being-there as absolute as boulders  

storing sun, as sensuous as Majas with their backs turned.  

(I’d like to run my finger up that nearest one’s spine 


to see if it would come away warm.)  Light clings 

to everything like talcum to skin, diffuse, sourceless,  

golden, pollen-grained—empirical, not empyrean. 


Ladies listing parasols creak quietly in their stays  

watching sailboats slip by, a freighter flap in,  

while an animated man gesticulates above them,  


not a caricature stick figure—small, but drawn to scale 

by a hand drawn to the human, so it can’t be Thomas Cole. 

No rainbows arc anywhere, except perhaps in river trout 


or the painter’s nacre buttons (oyster’s lost luster caught  

in eyelet slot).  The cows are milking the last of the light 

to the right of the rock form that picks them out—     

the diamond is low, set close to the earth, but casts a long shadow.