Early Sunday Morning

                                                      After Hopper

Brick apartments with a shade or cloned pair
Of blank curtains, the middle dark between them
Above a short row of storefronts, no perspective,
Everything near, and the empty street nearer—
Only the light that touches them appears
At all unique, sidelong and full of bias,
Intense in its calm attention to a place
No one would visit unless he lived there.
But you see no one, which forces you to be
That person who admires the lucidity
Of an ungodly hour, the world embellished
By removing distraction. It’s this the paperboy
Bicycles past, what the tired nurse or night
Watchman sees coming home, nothing abstract,
No drama beyond the understanding of light,
Which, merciless, yet just, falls upon the hydrant,
The barber pole, with as much indifference
As it might an odalisque, a wheat field. The shops
Will sleep all day with their windows black. In art
Nothing happens, maybe this hard enough,
Yet the aura of possibility hangs like a vow
That comes from within, a stubborn denial
Of a flat on view so limited and limiting
It must be mood coloring your expectations,
Not just air the same shade as marigolds.
Their absence blooms from them in the way you face
Your hands, your own body straight up, no companionship
To dilute your thoughts, the long shadowed chances.
This is life which consists of one city block,
Happy brooding, loneliness you love
Because you have plans that may finally go right
Beneath the plain old sky that isn’t poetic
Pap, religious diatribe, but clear and real and bright.

                                                          —David Moolten

Note: This new poem is a response to a prompt to “mash” together material from two other poems. I wound up “mashing” just two lines, which I altered slightly as I drafted the poem.

1. whose absence blossoms from it

2. and maybe this was already hard enough

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32 comments
  1. You’ve done an excellent job here. A difficult prompt this week.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thanks Anthony, and yes it was a challenging one.

  2. irene said:

    David, You paint a stagnant yet lucid mood expressed by a city block. I admire your technique.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thank you Irene.

  3. Derrick said:

    Hi David,

    You have created a very compact world here, where small lives are illuminated. I really like these two references:

    “No drama beyond the understanding of light,
    Which, merciless, yet just, falls upon the hydrant,
    The barber pole, with as much indifference
    As it might an odalisque, a wheat field.”

    and

    “Not just air the same shade as marigolds”.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Hi Derrick,

      Thanks for your kind praise. Small lives and compact worlds are what Hopper was so often about.

  4. rallentanda said:

    Well you’v e certainly captured the bleak urban mood of Hopper’s painting brilliantly.This poem is really worthy of a studied and erudite response. There is so much to think about.Reminiscent of Keats ‘Ode to a Grecian Urn’ in art nothing happens,the moment is frozen. Also the reference to the Odalisque a lit white expanse like the nude.Apart from the art references,
    the loneliness and very quiet calm desperation of Hopper’s solitary figure is so successfully translated into literature through this poem.. Beautiful
    images of shades of marigold,blackened windows in the ghost mood of a dead Sunday morning…Just wonderful…think I’ll snap my quill in half and head off back to the music world.Too good David!

    • davidmoolten said:

      Rall,

      Thank you for your [too] generous and effusive comments. I much appreciate them. But no need to break your pen! Much as the music world enjoys your creative contributions, we want them here.

  5. This is really lovely, David. I especially like

    Only the light that touches them appears
    At all unique, sidelong and full of bias

    and

    It’s this the paperboy
    Bicycles past, what the tired nurse or night
    Watchman sees coming home

    which reminds me of my hospital chaplaincy year, and what it felt like to be driving home after an all-night shift. The quality of light in those sleep-deprived moments was unlike anything else I know.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Hi Rachel,

      Thank you so much. I also have spent “all nighters” (during my training) in the hospital, and think of my early morning returns home as among the more rewarding aspects. Even with no sleep, there can be such clarity.

  6. I’ve come to look forward to your interpretations. It is like Hopper. I was so involved in all that light and architecture, that i almost missed that you were only comparing man and house. I’d pick out the lines I like, but there are too many

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thanks Barbara for reading and your kind as always response.

  7. What a unique and interesting idea for a poem…I thought it beautiful, stark, and lonely…the last 4 lines were just perfect…

    • davidmoolten said:

      Hi Cynthia,

      Thanks so much.

  8. before I read your explanation of mashing within this poem, I was taken with this line: “whose absence blossoms from it”

    I might have to write a found poem with that line. :-)

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thanks Julie.

  9. Linda said:

    There is a very flat two dimensional world in the essence of this poem that you have very deftly created. You speak about a flat on view being limiting but your flat on view is expansive and rich in its interpretations and expression. Thank you.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Hi Linda,

      I appreciate your insight and generous take. There is something very nifty about how painters create dimension in their work, and with modern painters like Hopper, sometimes that dimension is subtle, more metaphoric than overt.

  10. Nothing happens, maybe this hard enough,
    Yet the aura of possibility hangs like a vow
    That comes from within, a stubborn denial
    Of a flat on view so limited and limiting
    It must be mood coloring your expectations,
    Not just air the same shade as marigolds

    exquisite lines – vividly gray and flat with a vertigo of hope

  11. davidmoolten said:

    Thank you for your generous take. I like your “vividly gray and flat with a vertigo of hope,” quite poetic in itself.

  12. This poem may be influenced by a Hopper painting however I believe you have been on Spruce Street near Society Hill in the wee hours of morning. There is a moody sensuality in the work. I really liked: Of blank curtains, the middle dark between them. I have often wondered what hid in the middle dark. ‘It must be mood coloring your expectations’, what a great line. As I read the poem and came across its complement to its narrative I found myself several times mentally saying, “Gosh, that verse could be the beginning of a poem.” David, I like your work, it brings me joy. Thanks,
    Regards,
    DH

    • davidmoolten said:

      Hi Donald,

      You’re right, I have been out and about early. And those townhouses definitely have a compact bittersweet magnificence about them in slanted light. I’ve always been a morning person. It’s my best time for writing. The house quiet, except for perhaps our cats, none of the day used up yet, everything still an option.

      Thanks once again for your patient read and kind reflections.

      David

  13. This brought back a lot of memories of walking down streets where the buildings, though real and lived in, looked like facades. You take what could be seen as simply a trick of light and perspective and give it thematic importance.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thank you Elizabeth. I appreciate your praise. Hopper is a quite nifty artist to write about, sorrowful but stingy about letting you know, and once in a while, as in this painting, there’s a little optimism and hope.

  14. This definitely evokes the street scenes in my particular environment. There are a number of really lovely lines, including “Yet the aura of possibility hangs like a vow” and the final two. I fully embrace that sentiment.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thank you Francis. Hopper’s work speaks to so much of America, things we’ve all experienced.

  15. wayne said:

    David…this is soooo good…Ive walked that street a few times….great ending

    • davidmoolten said:

      Hi Wayne,

      Thanks for reading and your kind remarks.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thank you, Gautami.

  16. poetryaboutart said:

    Oh, what an unflinching, unforgettable poem! As skillful ekphrasis, the poem takes a variety of approaches: it describes what is present in the painting (apts., curtains, stores, etc.); it notes what is absent from the painting (no one, no perspective); it imagines what else might fit into the painting (paper boy, etc.); it shifts to the observer’s interior reverie. The metaphoric power of the poem comes from its consideration of sun “light” on Sun-day — ungodly, merciless but just, real and bright, indifferent. I love the night watchman detail (perhaps a nod to Rembrandt’s use of light?). This poem is a meditation on art which is just as solemn as other kinds of Sunday meditations. (I think Hopper’s works have inspired more poems in English than another other artist’s work. Would you consider submitting this to “Ekphrasis” journal?)

    • davidmoolten said:

      Therese,

      Thank you for your most generous and extended commentary on my poem. I’ve always loved Hopper’s work, and he’s so stingy usually, that when he lets a little hope creep into his color scheme, as in this painting, it might as well be an avalanche.

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