Landscape with Human Figures

“Everything only connected by ‘and’ and ‘and’…”
Elizabeth Bishop

I like Brueghel for the people in his paintings,
so many of them doing so many ordinary things,
and here and there a Christ thrown in,
dragging his cross along, as though that were just his job.

“There’s the Word Made Flesh going to be tortured to death,”
you might say to your child. “You know,
like they have in town on Tuesdays.”
This is a distinction for the artist because it is what the world misses.

I do not mean some kind of hippy garbage about how there is no real
between the Sacred and Mundane, though maybe I do. What I mean is,
when I am driving south on I-89, and I get to that spot a little past the
Williston exit,
where the valley opens up, and the big red barn sits on the hill, and the
iron bridge

is still there holding the river together, and the furry little islands still
stay put,
I cannot stop to take a picture. You will tell me I can, but you would be
by the number of things poets can’t do, and maybe this is my fault,
or maybe it is because Brueghel did not make the world,

and the Pantheon and the Cathedral at Amiens
and the country of Vermont are of no use to the one who did,
and he keeps them curiously empty of dancing peasants,
fish-eyed devils, and anachronistic Dutch noblemen. He seems to prefer

which are nice in their way, of course, but are not the same.
It would take a lifetime to fix this,
going out to Williston every day to reap hay with a scythe,
get drunk and fall asleep in the fields,

build fires and skate on the river when it freezes, go hunting with dogs,
be crucified by men or hairy demons, marry a homely woman
and keep monstrous livestock in the barn,
and most importantly, the final act, to lie down in the river,

its flood of linseed oil, piss, ground stones and seeds, the subject
of some parable or proverb, a passage from Scripture even,
and open my mouth as wide as I can to swallow it all whole.
In this world, there is no question of survival.