The Life of Things
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.
– William Wordsworth,
Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey
Portraits often seem pregnant with speech, or as if their subjects have just finished saying something,
or will soon speak the thoughts that inform their faces, the thoughts we’re invited to read.
Landscapes are full of presences, visible or unseen; soon nymphs or a stag or a
band of hikers will make themselves heard.
But no word will ever be spoken here, among the flowers and snails,
the solid and dependable apples,
this heap of rumpled books,
this pewter plate on which a few opened oysters lie, giving up their silver.
These are resolutely still, immutable, poised for a forward movement that will never occur.
The brink upon which still life rests is the brink of time, the edge of something about to happen.
Everything that we know crosses this lip, over and over,
like water over the edge of a fall, as what might happen does,
as any of the endless variations of what might come true does so,
and things fall into being,
tumble through the progression of existing in time.
But the still life resides in absolute silence.
― Mark Doty, Still Life with Oysters and Lemon: On Objects and Intimacy
Cool your heels on the rail of an observation car.
Let the engineer open her up for ninety miles an hour.
Take in the prairie right and left, rolling land and new hay crops, swaths of new hay laid in the sun.
A gray village flecks by and the horses hitched in front of the post-office never blink an eye.
A barnyard and fifteen Holstein cows, dabs of white on a black wall map, never blink an eye.
A signalman in a tower, the outpost of Kansas City, keeps his place at a window with the
serenity of a bronze statue on a dark night when lovers pass whispering.
– Carl Sandburg
Which is which?