after Fragonard

When the first crocuses,
the ones called golden crowns
and the ones called midnights,

push up through February’s mausoleum ground,
I think of Fragonard,
his patrons dead, the Terror over,

the stays of his golden swing now cut.
And I am tempted to lie down,
even though the ground is cold,

and listen to the girl who speaks to us
from beyond our Februarys
when we are dying.

In the single candle of her apparition,
this meager ration
we are given to console us,

we find some calm kept as shrine.
As air is antithesis of wing,
as water is foiler of fire,

this diadem of yellow is antidote
to what affliction roughens.
Here at last, a searchlight fixed upon our nakedness,

we might repair a heart held captive by too much solitary,
might find the scalariform light by which to ascend,
rung by rung. Advance is slow since we are

slow pilgrims, distracted as we are by that feeble stream
that can charm a doubting soul—
a beguiled horde carried along by tin-canned brightness,

mincing assayers of redemption,
plagued in this season of stray imaginings, of scarce advance,
by stillborn thoughts that can’t survive

outside the hospice of the mind.
Yet in her tor of sunlight, we absorb
the umbers and butters of her light—

wicks made ready by our roughening
to sop this ointment of composure.
Here, even we, the most wretched,

find fortune within her curtilage—
this life a fever in which we sweat
the virus of indifference out.

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