Mary Blood Mellen’s Field Beach, Stage Fort Park, 1850’s
The light is different, more diffused and eerie than anything you’d get in a Cole painting.
There is something special, too, about those cows in the foreground. . . .
—Morgan Meis, reviewing “ ‘Remember the Ladies’:
Women Artists of the Hudson River School”
The light is eerie and the cows are strange
in that both are what they are and nothing more,
so it can’t be Thomas Cole. God (big ceegar,
wind in his hair) is neither here nor there
coursing down the river. Neither is there Arcady
or Empire spoor—not a column, not a pillar
of smoke—just an enigmatic rock form, square,
center foreground (really diamond, bias-turned)
and a sweet hint of manure, grass’s consummation,
no more decadent than fish rot in raw, fresh-water smell,
no more desolate than picnickers in hook-and-eye corsets,
gasping for air. The cows have on no underwear
and bask inside their being-there as absolute as boulders
storing sun, as sensuous as Majas with their backs turned.
(I’d like to run my finger up that nearest one’s spine
to see if it would come away warm.) Light clings
to everything like talcum to skin, diffuse, sourceless,
golden, pollen-grained—empirical, not empyrean.
Ladies listing parasols creak quietly in their stays
watching sailboats slip by, a freighter flap in,
while an animated man gesticulates above them,
not a caricature stick figure—small, but drawn to scale
by a hand drawn to the human, so it can’t be Thomas Cole.
No rainbows arc anywhere, except perhaps in river trout
or the painter’s nacre buttons (oyster’s lost luster caught
in eyelet slot). The cows are milking the last of the light
to the right of the rock form that picks them out—
the diamond is low, set close to the earth, but casts a long shadow.