Poetry / December 2014 (Issue 26)

The Castle Looms Blue

by Ravi Shankar and Joseph Stanton


The castle looms blue upon the porcelain plate.
A boat—blue, too—sails off-shore,
sinister in its whisper of winds,
while the beautiful daughter and her furtive lover
cross the blue bridge in the porcelain rain
and embrace under the blue willow.

When they look up from their passion
two gigantic birds,
ridiculous in their unlikely warp of wing,
have filled most of the glazed white of the sky
with a verve décoratif.

By the time you have finished
eating the last of the crumbs off the plate
the lovers have achieved their blue consummation,
devoutly, behind the porcelain temple
and sailed off in the blue boat,

while two men—
a wealthy suitor and the girl’s father—
watch in azure silence on the pale bridge
as ceramic willow leaves
fall and fall.


Not unlike the snowflakes that settle in drifts,
plowed and salted brown, in Detroit
which has just gone bankrupt, where a couple,
newly married, unpack their belongings
from crates that once held Guatemalan oranges.

Under a framed playbill, a crumpled cat mask,
plaid scarfs and a stack of 45s—Rare Earth,
The Marvelettes, The Contours—the daughter
now turned wife drew from tissue
the very plate that embraced edges of so many knives,

a twisting genetic line of your forbearers,
men with moustaches or stern women in high
collars, whose sketchy sepia toned photos
you may or may not once have seen.
Here she is, fingering the scalloped edge,

with a lacquered thumb tracing the orifice
like inside a shell found at a beach where boats
dot the horizon and enormous seagulls
dive for bluish bits of trash.
By the time you ever crumble a croissant
on the plate, she too will have disappeared.


Because it is Friday night she has placed
their two best plates—
hers with its delicate decoration in blue,
his with its precise red-brown trim—
on the counter of their tiny kitchenette
ready to receive the meal she has prepared,

but her husband, just home from work,
remains oblivious to her pleas
and sits, still in his work attire—
white shirt, black vest, and blue tie.

He is hunched over his newspaper
as if the scores inked on the page
were the reason for his life
within this tight parenthesis
of yellow walls,

where his wife now sits, too,
luminous in her red dress.
She has stopped insisting
and sits by the piano,
plunking the same key
over and over again, a D-sharp

that Edward Hopper can’t hear,
staring at the couple from his seat
on the elevated train
sketching them quickly
for a painting he might want to do,

and the wife,
distracted by the rumblings of the train,
begins to pick out the melody of “Ain’t We Got Fun”
and thinks about her blue plate
and how she would like to cruise
away anywhere under its fragile sails.


Not a tableau of a happy chappy
with a hippy whooty, as the dropouts
on the corner contend, snapping
their fingers and beat-boxing freestyle
riffs that contrast with their riches,

or lack thereof, only one of them
ever even having eaten off a real plate.
They band together to shoot dice,
play stoop ball and skully with bottle

caps, anything to waste the hour
before they know they must return
to their women or to a whirlpool
of viscerally swirling downwards
addiction to the bottle or syringe.

The most exact possible transcription
of intimate natural impression,
what Hopper was after in painting
those solitary figures in shadow,
might better need cornet and drums,

music instead of paint to capture
the sheer desperate, frenetic, bluesy
hustle of life in the projects, where a boat
is but a shape on the screen, a piano
only something to hear struck in a pew.


Sometimes I was along for the ride
as he ran his Debit.
Later we would veer over to Forest Park
to fish tight-line off the side of a blue boat.

A castle abandoned after a World’s Fair
loomed blue on the horizon,
its ramparts catching
late afternoon light.

Our lines would sing
every little melody of current,
refrain of rock, delicate trill of fish nibble.
It was a tune the string made
against the unmoving finger;
the instrument playing its soloist.

With finger on string we could feel
to the depths of watery places.
We could sit for hours,
catching little
beyond glimpsed landscapes.
Sometimes he only watched the line,

but I liked to rest my finger on the string
so I could gaze at the other boats
or the deft red-winged blackbirds
and their awkward young
zig-zigging tight lines
from ground to sky to tree.

We spoke no more
than did the water or the clouds
drifting in the breeze.


Glimpsed in flashes off the highway, a medieval jawbone
sketch of crags against the skyline, then river between trees

and car, car, car as usual. Early mornings, alone with radio,
you drive this stretch, and on some days startle at the sudden

vista of another century, the conjuration of arrow loops,
crenellations, machicolations and murder holes, a barbarism

that on closer inspection reveals itself to be a simulation
of the medieval, the quirky former residence of the stage actor

who brought the deerstalker cap, tweed Inverness cape
and Calabash pipe to Sherlock Holmes. Sir William Gillette

who designed a fieldstone home in the German Rhineland-
style, a gnarled knuckle of a mansion that allowed him to spy

on his guests with elaborate mirrors, escape through trick
doors, and ride a train with guests like Charlie Chaplin around

his estate. The Nutmeg State is full of estates thinking nautical
thoughts of birds and yachts upon the Sound, but the inner

cities of Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven stay parched
places, bereft of porcelain plates and bobbing blue boats.

When Gillette died, without an heir, he precluded possession
of his land by any “blithering sap-head who has no conception

of where he is or with what surrounded.” You must confess
then to having no clue about what special form of depthlessness

and difference this drive each morning passes you through,
where you can see castles and panhandlers mere minutes apart,

where the Connecticut River swells from Quebec to Long Island,
and where at the end of the day, you will start it all over again.


At night it seemed a house in dark, fairytale woods
so high were the maples and oaks in every yard.

By day it was just another suburb
wedged between railroad tracks and expressways,
paths of desperate transit to the desperate city,
desperately needed because Long Island is so long.

But most nights blue napkins rested on a rosewood table,
and we ate off the good china with your ancient, Irish mother
who loved the color blue so much that you made sure
the walls of her room and all its furnishings remained
in that rarest of colors even decades after her passing.

So hard now to remember you
and your red hair,
and those ornate plates, so long gone, too.


Wisps spilling from a passel,
floating spirits in the form of flickering lights
in the evening sky just barely visible
beyond the curtain’s lace edge
stained a faint lentil bean color.

The alcazar of the stars serrates depth
with waves particulate as sand-grains
if impossible to hold in the hand.
Sounds an open palm might make
passing through the twilight air.

However we happened here, forged
from reptile, neuron and pure want,
vaster realms populate space beyond us,
the castle a plate to eat forms from,
full of conjecture plum-ripened in the sun.
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