I Drop In
by Lucy Duggan
after Frank O’Hara, “Why I Am Not a Painter”
is starting a painting. I drop in.
(In Zürich. It’s covered in snow
in November already
because this is Switzerland we’re talking about.)
I drop in. “You have SPAM BACON in it.”
“Yes, do you know that band?”
She plays a song. I listen; we listen.
I drop in. “I found you
some pictures of clocks,” I say.
She paints a clock-face
which looks like the moon
and a moon which looks like a clock.
I drop in.
(In her red studio. Just this once,
we eat from the beautiful plate
with the blue nude.
It doesn’t break
but our hands shake, nervous.)
I drop in. “My shoes
are full of paint,” she
says. Tips them out,
makes a shape on the paper,
like a foot.
“Is that what painters do all day?” (It looks
easier than writing.) She frowns.
“I’m just cleaning my shoes.”
(In Bern. It’s summer and the river is
and most of the boys are called Heidi and most
of the girls are called
is Switzerland I’m writing about, it is even
chli queer, I am a real poet.)
I drop in.
Why? I think I would rather she
dropped in on me.
I often write in bed, in my pajamas, with
the remains of breakfast, cold tea,
and a good view of the walnut tree
waving at me, complaining:
“You haven’t even mentioned
orange yet.” (The walnut tree harbors
a strong desire to be an orange tree,
just like I’d rather be a painter,
but I’m not. Well.)
I drop in. She shows me the book:
“After the palm, the bird.”
(Really? Painters make books?)
“Before the palm, the hand,”
I correct her. She laughs.
“Sit down and have a drink,” she
says. I drink; we drink. She calls
Kyra. “Come here, quick.
That poet dropped in, you know
the one. The title was wrong,
we have to reprint your book.”
(In Berlin. It’s spring and you know, you know, you know spring in Berlin, ev-
eryone sitting out on bridges and moaning about the gentry and lounging on the
Feld in their trendy denim jackets, and talking about all the art they’re going to
do tomorrow and the next day and the next day, you know, there should be so
much more, not of Berlin, of words, of how terrible Berlin is in the spring. This
is even in prose. It’s twelve poems, I call it LIFE.)
I drop in. She’s lying on the floor,
doodling alphabets in her notebook.
up. “You have my booklet in it.”
“Yes, it needed something there.”
“Oh.” I go and the days go by.
I’m in the garden, pinching
the yellow flowers off the tomato plants
beside the barn. Will she paint
a tomato too, is there no end
to what painters paint? I want to avoid
the walnut tree, which keeps berating me, so I
drop in again. The painting is going on,
she’s wearing her cap, the D is
orange, the paint is orange. “Would you
do me a favor
when you have time? Would you paint
the walnut tree as an orange tree?”
She looks at me
(is that what painters do,
they look at people
from under their caps?)
and I go, and
the days go by.
(In Mesendorf. It’s autumn. She paints in the barn.)
I drop in. She’s
inventing new letters. She
shows me, pleased.
“This one sounds like
‘chli.’” It looks like a cricket.
But me? I invented
a color: “strange.” I write a line
about “strange.” It’s like orange
but spelled differently, and
it looks different too, more like a very fresh
One day I am thinking of
calendars and seasons.
“Spill Simmer Falter Wither”
I heard recently. New names. For quarters
of the year, the clock, the moon.
Bring Glimmer Shorten Splinter.
Sprint Comma Lantern Lintel.
Fling Summon Pattern Wonder.
Song Salmon Caution Glinting.
Days go by.
I drop in. “It was too much,” she says.
“The alphabet only needs twenty-six letters.”
(But one day in a gallery I know
I’ll see her alphabet, all
different but still legible:
horseshoe, cricket, pomelo, telescope.)
I drop in.
All that’s left is just
letters: I am out.
Her painting of the newspaper is here, Final Edition.
I reach out
to touch it—is it a collage or did she
paint those letters? Then I see
a note on the table: Do not touch this painting.
I sit down, I write a line
about lack. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
I go to make a coffee. Another note: There’s no
coffee, that’s why
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