April 15, 2021

“Botticelli’s Oranges,” The Poetry of Reed Venrick

“Botticelli’s Oranges,” The Poetry of Reed Venrick
Botticelli's Oranges

In an Italian port village near where
the boy called "Allessandro" grew up, some
thought his circles drawn must be made
with a mechanical compass, so round,

so fine, there in the Mediterranean sand,
where Botticelli grew into youth, wandering
through the orange and lemon groves
of the Italian littoral; even then sketching

lines of muscular trunks and extending
arms branching into fingers of leaves, mixing
into colors of rinds of reds and yellows. But
when youthful fingers grew long enough to put

a brush to canvas, he tinted the precious fruit
In Madonna with Child and Angels, where
she sat under blooming orange trees in spring,
for the artist used orange trees to symbolize

the virgin, because as he said: among fruits,
only oranges are evergreen, "if one sees the mean."
So on a Medici commission, Botticelli painted
the ethereal La Primavera, there, the god

Mercury stood in a grove of oranges, though
some thought it looked like Lorenzo Medici's
lustful hand reaching up to pick the ripe fruit.
Then, came the historical day when the golden-haired

Simonetta was ushered into Botticelli's studio by
Lorenzo's sweaty hands, and Botticelli asked: Is
she a reincarnated goddess from the Adriatic Sea?
Soon, on Botticelli's easel, the canvas revealed

the ravishing Simonetta turned into Venus herself,
standing on a giant clam shell, surfing into
the sun-swept coast of Italy, bringing to the world
of mythology, those precious winter oranges to peel.

Today, in the sea-side village of Porto Venere,
the local men gather mornings under evergreen
shade of orange-tree cafes, where citrus rind
is mixed into the black coffee, and while the old

men lament the lost wonder of their divine youth,
sometimes foreign visitors overhear them to say:
"Even in the arms of Venus, whom everyone
knows brought the first citrus from China

to Italy, oranges were never so well-designed
and ripened as in the hands of the great Botticelli!"

**

Dust Down a Long, Desert Road

(Watching the classic movies in coronavirus lockdown; watching again,
in what may be the most powerful ending in cinematic history—the final scene
of Lawrence of Arabia)

Some believe that keen minds may foresee their last day
on earth, and in the passenger seat, a British officer stares
into a dusty windshield that reflects a weary face marked
with deep lines of departure—faded, blue eyes that saw
too much sun in a dirty, desert war—now riding in a motor car,
burning oil to fuel what's called the new internal-combustion engine.

A soldier-warrior leaving the region of an empire closing
down, a place where none back in London will ever understand
how the mind and body adapts to a land this harsh, an ambience
where heat soars beyond even a sauna's possibility—his life
now in transition, leaving years of Bedouin life, beyond European
imagination—yet the quintessence of freedom, living in the pages

of the Old Testament's truth, his stained war memories flashing past—
rocky valleys, date-palm oases, and vast sandy stretches—gargantuan
boulders rise into an atmosphere too scorching for clouds to rain.

Finally, the chauffeur, seeing Lawrence taciturn and glum,
tries to make conversation:
—Going home sir?
—Home?
—Must be glad to leave this desert hell.
—As you say.
—I've heard it say…a Victoria Cross waits you back in the U.K.

Laurels for the empire's victors—how little they mean
when a dirty war is remembered and so many comrades dead,
while dust continues to whirl under their wheels, but as they
turn a corner, crossing before their motorcar, blocking
the road—a herd of feral camels.

The driver curses, blows his horn, but Lawrence,
still grounded in Arabia, raises his officer's hand.
—Driver, let them pass.
—Them stinking beasts, sir?
—We have no hurry.

When their motor car drives on, Lawrence cannot
resist standing up—a last look back at the camels
and dust fading into memories of shifting sands and
blood-soaked years and centuries—dunes where
they slept out under the burning stars—when knights
and tribal kings led armies on raids, mounted on

endurance camels and racing Arabian horses across
these deserts to attack seaside forts and enemy
garrisons—fighting with swords and daggers—and
as the road winds on, Lawrence recalls Charles
Doughty's "Arabia Deserta," where the fires of deserts
will turn even hardened warriors into prophets.

Lawrence gazes too long back at Arabia of legend, riding
in the saddle, wearing the silken, white robes of a knight,
crossing Sinai on a camel, riding through history's
books. Recalling he stepped high in the stirrups, turning
to his bedouin companion, who pointed at the horizon.
—There! A pillar of fire!
—Now we see what Moses saw!

Lawrence of Arabia rides on down the final road; he
realizes the alienated paradigm taking place—what
displaces camels and horses with oil-burning machines
and internal combustion engines that rolled out lethal
armored tanks and flew "aeroplanes" and made war
in the Middle East, which armageddon had long foretold—

when a wind-gust brings the screaming racket of a motor-
cycle passing their car—dangerously fast—tires throwing
back loose pebbles, one cracking the windshield glass.
Through the broken glass, Lawrence squints to see
the motorcyclist, but visualizes his own reflection on the back
of the vanishing rider—remembering suddenly what

the desert sages foretold long ago in their ancient scripts:
only the chosen few know how their destiny ends
but only for the few will destiny ever exist.

**

The Artist's Garden at Giverny—a painting

In Monet's The Artist's Garden at Giverny,
the eye drifts from left to right—follows
a clay path, slipping, sliding further on
'til in the middle, the morass of color blooms—

then slanting further right, we see in the
distance behind, the house where Monet
lived, but used mostly just for sleep,
where it's said the artist's impressionistic

dreams revealed qualities of the Japanese
aesthetic, inherent in the power of light, always
changing, where the simplicity of wabi shading
variegated greens of lichens, on the bark

of the scaling bark of evergreen pines,
and the grass, foregrounded by the clay path,
leading to the impermanence of sabi,
where deciduous trees remain leafless,

though the spectator sees a canopy, over-
dappling sun shedding the side of the canvas
and colors darken, yet brighten purple and
lavender lilies to the right, which suggests

the refined aesthetics of miyabi—ripe
roses and tulips in bloom, the quintessence
of floral beauty includes the burgundy and blue
iris that dominate the dramatic colors of the garden,

the red peonies, secondary behind, the pale
sunlight on the painting's left side, but still
the disharmony of shibui objects placed off center—
of the three trees to left—one to right, the rule

of thirds, or call it two-thirds, it's been painted
and placed since Heian classical times, after all,
it's no secret that wild flowers usually have 5 petals,
but iki showing the refined uniqueness of a multi-

petaled rose or orchid or camelia hanging,
and then we see the yugen—something
unexplained—the smoke we remember
behind Hiroshige's mysterious smoke drifting

up and to the left of the red volcano, Mt. Fuji,
But why is Monet's path blocked? Ironical
that we cannot walk—just an illusion where
the garden visitor can amble left? Is the path

truly thwarted? Or is this path not designed
for strolling, but perhaps is just Monet's plan
for a "mise en scene" to connect where
the yugen combines with the johakyu?

The eye keeps accelerating and cruising
through the many multi colors like a dragonfly
or butterfly to reach where all paths
and all roads end in the ensou—the void,

as we remember that Zen conceals what
we visualize, and all we praise of beauty
that's ephemeral and passing before us
like a full moon before the blind nights

of dark holes return. But some paths pass
through the petals and sepals of perennials,
and highlights of annuals that grow along
the exposed earth that Monet abhorred,

yet opens up this exquisite spectacle, where
the impression is not just the design of aesthetic
floral form but the eye that keeps rolling and
the changing light seen by a divine hand,
where in the end color, form, design become one,

since never was the theory of impressionism
and the cultivation of beauty so successful
where color, form, and design prove that all that
we perceive is an illusion—less of eyes, more of mind.

***

Botticelli's Oranges

Reed Venrick studied Italian at the Italian University for Foreigners in Perugia; French at the Alliance Francaise in Paris, and taught English for a year in Saudi Arabia, where he first read the books of T.E. Lawrence

Botticelli's Oranges
#botticelli#lawrence of arabia#monet#poetry#reed venrick

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