Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Alberta Clipper 10/13/15: “Listening to the Paint” by Rachel Dacus

by Summer Bethune

On October 13, 2012, Gerhard Richter, a German visual artist, set an auction record price for artwork sold by a living artist with his painting Abstraktes Bild. It sold for $34 million, but that record held only until 2013 when his piece, Domplatz, Mailand sold for $37.1 million in New York. Finally, Abstraktes Bild exceeded the record again in February 2015 when it was sold again, this time for $44.52 million in London.

Richter’s first record-breaking day was notably humid here in Lincoln, starting early with heavy thunderstorms starting around 3:45 a.m. The humidity remained above 94% until nine’o’clock the next morning. Finally, the skies turned overcast until thunderstorms returned around 7:30 that evening. Prairie Schooner had just released its 2012 fall issue only weeks prior, which included New Yorker Rachel Dacus’s poem “Listening to the Paint” featuring brush strokes, color mixing and rhythms on canvas.

“Listening to the Paint”
Rachel Dacus

In the exhibit I recognized my father’s feathered dashes,
the brush strokes I watched him apply
to seascapes and portraits, forearm scrubbing
tint on canvas, bristles flicking the length
of long, silent Saturday afternoons. How many times
Monet must have moved his brush. You can see it
in the flurry of colored welts,
one paint lump embedded with a  single hair.
How many times he loaded the brush,
swiped on those parallel lines. Strokes now fossilized
in the exhibition room’s angled-down lights.
 

I have an idea how long that dry rhythm held
because as I waited for my father to speak
I counted the falling dust motes.
The silence art must bear.
I shifted from foot to foot. Now I shift
memory’s tenses and wish my keys swashed
soft as brushes, clinked like his brushes
stirring turpentine in a jar to lisp
on the next vista. Today my father stands silent
before his easel, as if listening to the paint.
He can’t remember how to mix the colors.
His mind’s layers have been rubbed off
with the palette knife of a painter who keeps changing
the composition. I no longer begrudge that hoarded time,
or the gruffness when he pushed me out of his studio.
Now his time dries out, darkening on the canvas. 

Prairie Schooner, Vol. 86, No. 3 (Fall 2012)


The Alberta Clipper is a biweekly gust of history—brushing the dust off of a poem from our archives and situating it in the current events and local Nebraskan weather reports of days gone by. Explore the Alberta Clipper archives here.