When I think of red, I think of Rothko.
One afternoon in a cottage above the Missouri River, I sat with a friend and blathered about poetry. She listened closely. She realized I was talking about words like a painter might talk about primary colors.
“Do you know Mark Rothko’s work?” she asked.
“Not really,” I answered.
Friendly bikers could be heard below on the Katy Trail. A cool wind marched through the screened-in porch and brought cow smell and lilac. I got on Google and quickly became entranced by Rothko’s No. 15, Untitled.
Red and gold.
This introduction to Rothko spurred me to a flurry of inspiration that would culminate in a literary triptych (three sections of 15 poems). Rothko’s powerful choices of red, gold, yellow, are prominent in the resulting 45-poem swath.
For me, the painting cannot be separated from the poems. Rothko might concur, for he said, “A picture lives by companionship, expanding and quickening in the eyes of the sensitive observer.”
Sensitive and inspired, I slung a new layer of oil on top of Rothko’s canvas—romantic stories set in the natural and cultural landscape of my home in the Ozarks. Was the painting ultimately quickened by my activity? Maybe yes, maybe no. But I was surely quickened, as I came home to red.
6 | Rothko’s Reds
We are joined at the hipbones
like Rothko’s reds. Slight spaces
between like woman man skin
sticking, unsticking—blotchy fuzz
Rothko wrists into the painting.
No matter how you triangulate the canvas,
you see us. Naked pulsing red mists—
no boundaries on land,
pond, and autumn gold field.
Buy a year of Every Day Poems— Read a poem a day, become a better poet. In February we’re exploring the theme Red.