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——–—after Nikolai Astrup (1880–1928)

For him, the glistening streams
running down the mountainsides
still sang the ancient songs,
although less audibly
than during his childhood,

when, to escape the gloom indoors,
he climbed onto the turf roof
thick with grass and shrubs
to pick raspberries
under the cloud-animated sky.

The mountains encircled him
like elders less stern
than his father the pastor
who warned him that whatever
gave him pleasure was a sin,

even sledding…and, later, painting.
He wanted to wash himself
in the region’s raw colors
and apply them untainted
to his paintings and woodcuts:

the lake’s cobalt, red splash
of rowan berries, copper glow
of a mountain’s dome at midnight,
and, for the valleys in spring,
his “poisonous greens.”

Anything that hadn’t been there
when he was a boy, he left out,
and what had vanished he added
back in, the drained marshes
yellow with marigolds again.

He kept returning to a birch grove
like a recurring dream
where two of his daughters,
wearing crimson dresses,
picked mushrooms, bending down

in unison, as though bowing
to the stream rushing by
as the foxgloves looked on.
Even the boulder topped with moss
and frosted with lichen was alive.

And the bonfire on Midsummer’s Eve
was a god of flame
leaping high into the violet sky,
its great plume of smoke
snaking over the valley

while revelers danced
on the mountain’s green shoulder
and he watched from the edge
and took it all in, feeling
the heat of the fire on his face.



Jeffrey Harrison’s sixth book of poetry, Between Lakes (Four Way), was published in 2020. Recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Threepenny Review, Paris Review, Yale Review, Hudson Review, Poem-a-Day, and elsewhere, and his essay on Marcel Duchamp recently appeared in The Common. A former Guggenheim, NEA, and Bogliasco Fellow, he lives in Massachusetts.




Image: “Revebjeller” by Nikolai Astrup. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

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