The Rothko Room
He crushed charcoal with a city’s rubies,
saw such visions of soft-edged night and day
as stop the ears with silence. In this,
the last room after hours in the gallery,
a mesh diffuses London’s light and sound.
The Indian keeper nods to sleep, marooned
in a trapezium of black on red.
We few who stop are quiet as if we prayed
in this room after Turner’s turbulence.
Coming and going through paint’s water-curtains
turning a corner suddenly we find
a city burns, a cathedral comes down
with a last blaze filling its gaudy lantern
and windows buckle as a tenement falls.
Rack the heart for memory or sense
and reds like these come crowding out of dream;
musk mallow, goat’s rue, impatiens,
loosestrife, hellebore, belladonna, nightshade,
poppysilks crushed in their velvety soot,
and digitalis purpurea, red on maroon,
drop dappled gloves along an August lane.
A morning’s laundry marking glass with steam
on rainy Mondays where a blackbird sings
sodden in dripping dark-red lilac trees.
We look, myopic, down his corridors
through misted spectacles of broken glass
window on window, scaffolding of pain
red on maroon and black, black on maroon.
Gillian Clarke was orn in Cardiff. After reading English at University College Cardiff she worked for the BBC in London before returning to Wales to raise a family and now lives in Cardiganshire. She began writing poetry in 1970 and was Editor of the Anglo-Welsh Review, 1975 – 84, and Writer-in-Residence at the ST David’s University College, Lampeter, 1984-5. Publications include Letter from a far country (Carcanet,1982), Letting in the Rumour (Carcanet,1989).