Bradley Earle Hoge

Fog of Liquid Ink on Stone

James McNeil Whistler, “Nocturne: The Thames at Battersea”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Nocturne—nearly night.
Lonely fisherman seining river depths.

City hazy in the background. 
Water negative space—lithotint—

impression of liquid ink on stone. 
Blurry, as a child’s rubbing

of charcoal over leaves.
What was Whistler’s intent

through choice of medium and gray palette?
Foreground serene

against backdrop of industrial revolution. 
At a time when moths turned black

against sooty bark
and Malthusian angst roiled

intelligentsia. While the masses labored on. 
Change threatening the future 

but not of immediate concern.
The first of the perilous cycles

of environmental degradation
preceding cultural revolution.

Warnings lost behind vainglorious 
curtain of smoke and fog.
 

Legacy

She will see the irises 
bloom in February

and her father will say 
“when I was a boy

the land stretched 
all the way past

the sunken city
and irises never bloomed

in the front yard.”
And she will see alligators

along the bayou banks 
and her mother will say

“don’t go near abandoned 
buildings, and don’t talk

to strangers in their rowboats
fishing the bayou for gar.”

And she will laugh 
and play with the dog,

and follow her mother’s rules, 
and listen to her father’s stories.

Just like any childhood.
Because she

will not know 
any better.
 

THE COURTSHIP OF WINDS

© 2015 by William Ray