Features, Poems

Floyd Skloot: “Signac at Castellane, 1902”

Oregon’s Floyd Skloot is the subject of this month’s feature exclusive to Poetry Northwest Online as a part of our recurring series on Northwest poets. The series began with the June 2006 feature on Kevin Craft.

Skloot, a native of New York, has been living in Oregon for the past twenty-two years. His poetry has appeared in magazines such as The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, and Poetry. We’re delighted to feature two of his poems: “Signac at Castellane, 1902” and “Recurrence.”

When asked about “Signac at Castellane, 1902,” Skloot writes:

“Paul Signac (1863-1935) was a largely self-taught painter, a great admirer of Monet. He spent time bicycling and making watercolor sketches on a tour of Provence in 1902, and one of his finest paintings, completed later in his studio from sketches made on site, depicts the cliff, bridge and River Verdon at Castellane. To my eyes, its nearly pointillist technique suggests the immense fragility and changeability of the natural setting, and the impact that time will have on the scene as he knew it. My poem was written shortly after my wife Beverly and I returned from a trip through Provence. Beverly is an impressionist landscape painter, largely self-taught, and a great admirer of Monet. As we traveled through Provence she took photographs from which she later painted a series of powerful works. It is so difficult to capture the moment of light–the impressionist’s art–and to work within the constraints of that moment. Seeing her work, being moved by the transitoriness of the scene, led me to thinking about the fragility of the landscape, which in turn led me to thinking about the great harm being done to fragile landscapes all over the world.”

Signac at Castellane, 1902

In late afternoon heat, Signac takes
the curves slowly, coasting when he can,
feet at rest on the pedals. Florid light
turns the cliff rosy as he swerves to a stop
where the Verdon at last comes into sight.

It is pure emerald, just as he remembers.
The ancient bridge shimmers in the river’s
reflection. But there is no time for memory.
No time even to think. Purple shadows
stain the cliff’s throat, lap at the bank,
and he needs to capture the broken light
that brought him to a halt before it vanishes.

Signac drops his pack, scrabbles inside
for his pad and paint tray. He rushes past
two washerwomen, bends to fill his tin cup
at the riverbank, and touches by chance
the very place where green becomes blue.

No matter how quickly he moves, time
moves faster. Suddenly he feels the river
growing still, then turning back on itself.
He has a vision of the cliff crumbling
in ebony chunks. There are no people,
no scents, no sounds. He falls to his knees,
knowing the dark future when he sees it.
It all happened so fast. Behind him,
the wheels of his bicycle continue to spin.

Skloot’s “Recuperation” deals with an entirely different subject. He describes the poem this way: “The fourteen years that my wife Beverly and I spent living in a small round house in the middle of twenty acres of woods left me with a deep appreciation for the assertive life forces I saw all around us. Looked at closely, there was so much to see in this apparently quiet, lonely setting, such energy for life. Left to its own devices, the land and its inhabitants always sought to reclaim what we had staked out for ourselves. During a period when her mother was ill, and Beverly made regular trips into Portland to be with her, I felt myself surrounded by affirmations of the life force, the will to thrive, and it helped encourage me to believe that my mother-in-law would recover. Which she did, as this poem knew even before I did for sure.”

Recuperation

After you leave to tend your mother
and her failing heart, I hear an acorn
woodpecker high in the forked oak
near our window begin boring deep
to store his spring cache. He drums
in manic bursts echoed by the farmer
on the valley floor hammering his barn
back together after last month’s storm.

Wind swishes through the thin limbs
of Douglas fir as afternoon light dips
and rises in waltz time. Before long,
like a diva entering from the wings,
a yellow warbler costumed as the sun
appears to add its familiar theme song:
sweet sweet sweet oh so sweet.

“Signac at Castellane, 1902” and “Recuperation”  appear exclusively on Poetry Northwest Online.