During the Plein Air Painting Festival sponsored by the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, a poet is matched with a painter. They spend several hours together, the painter painting and the poet creating a poem. An evening session presents the newly created painting with the poet sharing their poem. Last year I was paired with Nixson Borah, who created the following poem as I painted at the Johnson Ranch Trail:
September Light and Shade
We are bound to our rectangles,
she and I. She draws colored patches
—a quilt against the growing cold—
with dry sticks of colored dust
as I scratch words in trails of ink
that leave aerial views of vineyards
framed by my journal’s page.
I explore the terrain while she sits
on the ground, under a broad straw hat.
I walk a creek-bed of cracked mud
that's studded with stones.
Under a massive cluster of poplars,
a collapsed truck lies rusting,
heavy as dropped fruit.
In the distance, the Irish Hills
pale against a sky dulled
by incipient fog. The space
between here and there
is layered—detail overlaps mass,
intensity comes before gray.
Wind from Morro travels
the road toward us, bringing
a soft rasping of leaves
as if chapped hands were washing
with dirt, wanting rain. In an hour,
the trees will be silent silhouettes.
She loves the Venetian moment,
this modern daughter of Monet,
when late afternoons mellow
to amber, butter the trunks
of sycamores and illumine
even oak leaves with gold.
Rounded hill slopes,
powdered with dry grass,
become the limbs of a Titian nude
seen through honeyed varnish.
Racing to beat the shadows,
she pays homage to this light.
Disciplined, she has chosen
the characters she wants in her play
and taped-off her proscenium.
Nothing is admitted from outside it.
Left out are the collies and Labradors
exercising their owners. Ignored,
this wandering poet-observer.
Her drawing board is a fragile shield
against the wind that strives mightily
to overturn it and smear the pigments
onto her lap. Darkness
will soon obliterate the scene.
But against all chaos and destruction
she has assembled a golden defense.