Cape Cod Quartet

By | 1 March 2017


And seated on the step, eyes closed, he bends
Towards the dead grass that obscures his feet,
And sullenly extends
His right-hand fingertips, while with complete
Indifference to his presence there,
She stands and leans before the wall
And window, glowering with an inward stare,
Arms folded to repress
A disappointment too deep for deceit.
Blind-eyed in bitterness,
The pair of them see nothing here at all.

The house, clapboard in rural gothic, seems,
Like them, to be oblivious of the site,
Absorbed in years-long dreams
It can’t awaken from. The walls are white,
And white the blinds, and the blind glass
That seals the door is white. All round
The house, a shallow sea of faded grass
Laps at the walls in still,
Wind-counterfeited waves, sapped by the light
It trapped in chlorophyll.
In those dry shoals what jetsam may be drowned?

The collie, wading through it, pauses, tensed,
Head turned towards some motion, sound or scent,
Something to warn against.
Behind the house, vaguely malevolent
In its dark, dense encroachment, presses
A forest all of conifers,
Like one of those ensorcelled wildernesses
In M R James—those trees
Escaping from the maze where they were pent,
With baleful potencies.
But for the moment nothing. Nothing stirs.


Massing in ranks of shadow from behind
The house, presses a wood of spruce or fir.
What should it bring to mind?
The one where, by his own dark character,
Midway along his lifelong course,
Dante was fatefully decoyed?
Or mind itself—distress that cannot force
Its way to consciousness,
But thickens and makes ever gloomier
The rooms it can’t possess?
A forest for analysis by Freud.

She leans against the window and the wall,
Arms folded tightly underneath her breast,
Wrapped grimly in recall
Of grievances that will not be confessed
This evening, in this company.
He’s seated on the step, extending
A hand to brush the long grass vacantly,
Without a word to say.
Nothing they own holds any interest
For either. Anyway,
Neither one is looking, or comprehending.

The house, surrounded by the long, dead grass
And equally oblivious, still waits
For time to—what? To pass?
The dog, adrift in dry haulms, hesitates,
Head turned, ears cocked. Perhaps he’s heard
A twig snap, or has caught a scent,
Or seen the flicker of a startled bird.
Perhaps someone he knows
Is coming and now opening the gates.
Over the grasses blows
A breeze as doubtful as this incident.


Dead grass in one uninterrupted sweep
Chokes all the waste that was, or might have been,
A garden, parched and deep
Enough to drown the collie’s legs. He’s seen
Some movement to his right, or heard
A rustling, caught a waft of scent,
And stands alerted. Something has occurred.
At least, he thinks it has.
In that caesura, poised to intervene,
He waits, unmoving as
The scene around him, and as imminent.

Behind the house, hard up against that wall,
The dreary ranks of conifers impose
Their darkness to enthral
The sorry property. One thinks of those
Imagined forests and what could
Be conjured there and come to pass,
And soon enough of history’s haunted wood.
One of the firs is much
More forward than the rest, and one branch grows
Across, almost to touch
A window and its unreflecting glass.

He’s sitting. She is standing. Man and wife,
Presumably, and looking as though they
Were sentenced here to life.
Of such concerns the house does not betray
A clue, sunk deeply in abeyance,
Years long, as much by day as night,
And seems to be absorbed in its own séance.
Walls, door and blinds confess
The only secret they will give away:
Nothing. Like happiness,
Though very far from that, the house writes white.


Clapboard rural gothic: the old house seems
Forgetful of itself and of its site,
Sunken in timber dreams,
Which creak to measure time that never quite
Awakens into life, or passes—
While lapping at its walls there came
This stationary tide of drying grasses.
Too late, though, to react.
White walls, white blinds, glass in the front door white,
White as a cataract.
No one looks out from here beyond the frame.

And the long grass, the colour of a biscuit,
Died in despair of ever being mown.
It comes up to the brisket
Of a collie waiting for some yet unknown,
Unseen occurrence or approach.
Head turned, ears cocked, he pauses, tensed,
For this drawn moment to resolve and broach
What must be imminent.
A sound, a stirring that the dog alone
Makes out, a waft of scent?
Something to welcome—or to warn against?

Behind the house, dense, ominous and dim,
Presses the forest, all dark conifers,
Like something out of Grimm.
But, ah, the couple, steadfast ministers
Of grievances they can’t express,
Are set in place outside the door
And, locked behind a blind-eyed bitterness,
See nothing here at all.
He sits. She stands. No more. Nothing occurs.
They wait for night to fall.
If there is anything they’re waiting for.

In response to Cape Cod Evening by Edward Hopper.

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