In Plain Air

on February 7 | in Featured | by

By Elizabeth Poliner, associate professor of English and director of the Jackson Center for Creative Writing

LeavesThe day was already
brilliant: sky
swept clean, air
charged with the cinnamon
scents of late October.
Yet in this elm—
ablaze with color,
backlit by a low-lying sun—
I was sure I’d found it:
a little perfection.
And then what?
Once you’ve seen it
what do you do?
Weep? Run along
as if nothing has happened,
as if you could go on?

A painter I know
gets up early,
a whole day’s looking
ahead of him.
He sees perfection,
natural and obvious,
all day, each day.
“Sometimes,” he says,
“the tension’s too much.”
And about that tree:
“You can’t paint a fall tree
when it’s glowing!
You settle
for smaller:
this backyard
or my garage
or the neighbor’s laundry
drying on the line.
Maybe your face,

He gestures
toward the back steps,
angled with wear;
the fall garden, cosmos
still wildly in bloom;
the tilting, makeshift
picnic table; his tenant’s
motorcycle, flickers
of red and silver.
He says, “Some days
I could die from it,”
as, words failing,
he points at the air,
then at the light
in the air,
as good a way as any
to embrace it—
perfect light,
plain air.

“In Plain Air,” by Elizabeth Poliner, from What You Know in Your Hands, (C) 2015 WordTech Communications LLC, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. 

Elizabeth Poliner“I wrote this poem in the midst of an autumn in Washington, D.C. My neighborhood there, just off Connecticut Avenue in the upper Northwest section of the city, was filled with old, beautiful trees that I had the pleasure to observe as I took daily walks. The look of the trees often took my breath away, but this was especially so in the fall. I was close friends then with a visual artist, a landscape painter, and upon telling him about one particularly lovely tree he seemed to know just what I was feeling—a little undone by the beauty—and this poem ultimately came of our talk. The poem reminds me of many wonderful (and often funny) talks with this talented artist, and of how enriching a friendship between a painter and writer can be.”

—Elizabeth Poliner


Poliner’s novel As Close to Us as Breathing won the 2017 Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize. In May 2017, the book was named a finalist for the 2017 Library of Virginia People’s Choice Award. It was selected as one of Amazon’s Top 100 Editors’ Picks for 2016 and was an Amazon Spotlight Pick in Fiction for March of that year. Poliner is also the author of Mutual Life & Casualty, a novel in stories. She was a finalist for the 2019 Nelson Algren Short Story Award for “Sabelle,” published in the Chicago Tribune on July 20, 2019.



Comments are closed.

« »

Scroll to top