Pot-pourri à Vaisseau, from Sèvres

We have long misunderstood art as form after formula,
forming and informing what cannot, for all our work,
embody what we want: to be measured and Euclidian,
to invent cadences of shapes from bodies at work.

One of ten surviving masted ships, this Sèvres vaisseau
cut in porcelain fabricates the grand roamings we voyage into.
Vessel of leaving, it rose, like gravity or telescopes
crafted from slow work, shine lapis and ground-green,
rigging masterful, bowsprit jutting from monster-jaws
waiting for the sea. The way life is brutal and lovely at once.
Until I looked closer at the perforations in the sail.
As a memory of a photograph recalls experience,
the air blew lichen, cedar, marjoram, rosemary, juniper, and rose—
wildflower France, factories of beauty, scents of home.
A gift you’d seen one at the Met, and I, another at the Frick,
full circle: madwoman and son, sailing and staying, clay and paper.

I conjured up a world for us to share: a pennant cascading
down the mast, curves and carriage of the boat, fine chinoiserie.
You shrugged, because I trespassed your discovery: scents
you’ll leave behind, infinities of youth, geometries of world.
We make the soul composite when throwing shapes
with hearts and hands, as if hearts could understand.
What is seventeen if not bending shapes around you?
Minerals transmigrate in the bounty of your hands—
feldspar crystallized from magma, clay, and quartz—
You’re making, molding, doing while I soliloquize
too much. You uplift, sidelift, lift, and with counterforce
sail off, but will you smell ocean or roses in this small boat?

Art is love modeled in experience
fired at higher temperatures than experience.
Beauty elucidates what you hand-work in your heart;
making art is just that next and next experience of showing up.

Diane Mehta was born in Frankfurt, grew up in Bombay and New Jersey, studied in Boston, and now makes her home in New York City. Her second poetry collection Tiny Extravaganzas is out with Arrowsmith Press in October 2023. Her essay collection Happier Far comes out in 2024. New and recent work is in The New Yorker, Virginia Quarterly Review, Kenyon Review, American Poetry Review, and A Public Space. Her writing has been recognized by the Peter Heinegg Literary Award, the Café Royal Cultural Foundation, and fellowships at Civitella Ranieri and Yaddo. She was an editor at A Public Space, PEN America, and Guernica. Her latest project is a poetry cycle connected to The Divine Comedy. She is also collaborating with musicians to invent a new way of working through sound together.