The Charm

rapid eye movement
goldfinches brush the trees
with flame colours
in and out of song
your path through the forest’s dream
A sunlit breeze plays on the willow leaves against a powder blue sky. The thistle’s downy seed my fare, my drink the morning dew. I follow the glistening song of goldfinches, through the fields and vineyards of Vinci, catching glimpses of you as a boy as you go about your days with your uncle Francesco, learning the names of plants and herbs and studying the habits of wild animals.

“Vista d’uccello!” your voice hushed in wonder — how the world would take shape in a bird’s eye! This is your dream as you study birds in flight, mesmerised by the way they catch the currents of the wind, noting every detail in the sketchbook that hangs at your hip.

what is it
that lifts the wings
of man
quill by quill
the colours of his dreams

And so it begins, the first spark of the fire in your eyes, that many years later will send you running upstairs to the barricaded top room of your bottega, to work on one of hundreds of designs intended to lift you into the skies over Milan. Perhaps canvas and feathers, or these vast pinions constructed from leather and cane and starched silk will take you gliding over the lake – with an empty wineskin as your belt to save you from drowning?

where their wings once brushed
the bars of a gilded cage…
a charm
of goldfinches
with a key to the sky

It’s a simple thing to wander down to the open-air market and purchase the caged birds. One day you write a fable of the goldfinch who flies back and forth to feed her captured offspring with a poisonous herb – better death than the loss of liberty. A few moments spent sketching the feathers of a dove find their place in eternity, in the brushstrokes of Gabriel’s wings. Yet, what greater work of art than the gentle hand that slips the latch on the cage to set the little bird free? Or the dream-dark eyes that watch it fly away?

black strokes through yellow
the open fan of a wing…
the hang of the folds
and the placement of her hands,
her smile’s sfumato

A breeze through the willow paints a living picture of rose-coloured chiaroscuro in my lightly closed eyes. You speak to me of time.

the last of the past
the first of the future
my fingers
in the now
of the mountain stream


Note: the goldfinch referred to in this piece is the European goldfinch, quite distinct from the American goldfinch.

‘the thistle’s downy seed…’ extract from ‘On a Goldfinch, Starved to Death in his Cage’, by William Cowper (1731-1800)

better death than the loss of liberty is the moral of  one of Leonardo da Vinci’s many fables, The Goldfinch
Atlas Poetica 10 2011

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: