Having coffee across from the auction house

On the curb, panels of concrete, 
white cement, and bricks 
form an abstract cut by tarred seams, 
grout, and asymmetric litter, weeds, shadow, 
and asphalt patches. The minutiae . . . 
a brilliant red reflector between lanes, 
the fourth in a series of circular bumps 
like white wafers, signifying nothing 

but the crosswalk ahead.
How many cities I’ve cast my eyes down
to unapprehended planes of walkway 
or road with their painted symbols 
and Euclidean apparatus, shapes 
no passersby assess for design or evocation. 
Yes, I’ve photographed and ogled
cathedrals and statuary, the sweeping
views from the Assisi Cathedral piazza
or Bredon Hill, picturesque. But the unnoticed 
and inadvertent draws my eyes as well, 
the unvalued bits that punctuate the grandeur 
or rescue the dreary or hollow: 
the splotch of color on the grid 
of a boarded window or derelict wall
adding balance or movement.

Coincidence piles up, and as the pavement here 
calls up the painted avenues of Ville-Franche 
or Scauri, so their elsewhere shopfronts echo
the windows across the street, dark and linear, 
the auction showroom where I realize 
paintings from my parents’ house were sold 
to their next stewards, art I grew up with 
so long that I stopped registering them —
the murky Kollewitz and whiskery Baskin, 
which meant who-knows-what to my mother, 
inherent meanings intentional but subjective. 

The blunt elegance of a shattered façade
or patchwork paving job, rhythms 
of out-and-out form and color, 
hold no guilt if you cannot assemble 
sentiment from them. Is it because 
they’re not human? As if 
looking at a portrait is as fraught
as staring into someone’s eye . . .

Geometry does not demand
response, only offers a hallo in passing.
“I’m here,” colors say, “for what it’s worth. 
Don’t mind me.” Form and function 
cancel each other out like matter /
antimatter: particles which exist but 
have no plan — concocting their own design 
even if some mason has laid the stone
or poured the slurry, some painter sprayed 
arrows on the one-way street or catchy 
stripes on a zebra crossing, some lineman 
strung the web of splicebox and dropwire
from pole to house, some glazier 
spec’d clear not tinted for plate glass 
behind which old pictureframes hold 
likenesses of nouns: places, people, things, 
flaunting themselves to the street, frank 
as strippers in Reeperbahn clubs. Below, 
my pavement abides patient as the Sphinx.

Sean Bentley | Brotherhood
Contents | Mudlark No. 72 (2021)