Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE DIORAMA PAINTER AT THE MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY, by KAREN SWENSON



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THE DIORAMA PAINTER AT THE MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: His enormous hands / with fingers long and white
Last Line: As violently foreshortened as a life.
Subject(s): Museums; Nature; Paintings And Painters; Art Gallerys


His enormous hands,
with fingers long and white as skeletons of polar bear paws,
work back from real earth
and plants posed in the foreground
toward the perspective of
distance and illusion.

Off the twilight corridors
the windows open their unenterable dreams
onto landscapes that seem
to a city child's eye
melodramas of color and contour -
behind a stuffed cougar
with one kit
the long perspective falls away
to badlands melting layers of ice-cream cake colors.
These scenes
perfect, unreal, and absolutely true
as rooms bright behind footlights
the wise child, knowing neither place,
believes.

At the end of his life
he left two windows for the children,
never seen but heard scampering
in the halls like squirrels over drifted leaves in the park:
beyond a fox's night eyes -
his mouth a warbonnet of chicken feathers -
the moon-lined pitch
of the farmhouse gable where we all lie ignorant of the scenes
dwelling outside our sleep in darkness;

in a tall, narrow window
down the hall,
a sequoia, the base a dressmaker's dummy
of real bark over wire, soars to the one
dimension of his craft, the perspective of the whole tree -
500 years of growth rings into 6 feet -
as violently foreshortened as a life.





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