The Horizontal Line

(Homage to Agnes Martin)

It was like a white sail in the early morning
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It was like a tremulous wind calming itself
After a night on the thunderous sea

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The exhausted lightning lay down on its side
And slept on a bed of cumulous sheets
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She came out of the mountains
And surrendered to the expansiveness of a plain
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She underlined a text in Isaiah:
Make level in the desert
A highway for our God
Every valley shall be exalted
And every mountain and hill shall be made low
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The mountain grew tired of striving upward
And longed to flatten its ragged peaks
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The nostalgia of a cathedral for the open plain
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The nostalgia of a soprano for plainsong
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I know a woman who slept on a cot
And sailed over the abyss on a wooden plank
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She looked as far as the eye can see
But the eye is a circle—poor pupil—
And the universe curved
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It was like a pause on the Bridge of Sighs
An instant before the storm
Or the moment afterward
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My friend listened to Gregorian chants
On the car radio as he raced down
A two-lane highway in southern France

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I remember riding a bicycle very fast
On a country road where the yellow line
Quivered ever so slightly in the sun

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The faint tremor in my father’s hand
When he signed his name after the stroke

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The beauty of an imperfection

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An almost empty canvas turned on its side
A zip that forever changed its mind

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From its first pointed stroke
To its last brush with meaning
The glow of the line was spiritual

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How the childlike pencil went for a walk
And came home skipping

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It was like lying down at dusk to rest
On the cool pavement under the car
After a blistering day in the desert

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The beaded evanescence of the summer heat

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The horizon was a glimmering blue band
A luminous streamer in the distance

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I recited, Brightness falls from the air
And the line suddenly whisked me away

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No chapel is more breathtaking
Than the one that has been retrieved
On the horizon of memory

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She remembered the stillness of a pool
Before the swimmers entered the water
And the colorful ropes dividing the lanes

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Each swimmer was a scar in the blue mist

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Invisible bird,
Whistle me up from the dark on a bright branch

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It’s not the low murmur of your voice
Almost breaking over the phone
But the thin wire of grief
The hum of joy that connects us

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Sacred dream of geometry,
Ruler and protractor, temper my anguish,
Untrouble my mind

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Heartbeat, steady my hand

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Each year she crossed a line
Through the front page of a fresh diary
And vowed to live above the line

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She would not line up with others
She would align herself with the simple truth

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She erased every line in her notebook but one
Farewell to the aspirations of the vertical
The ecstasies of the diagonal
The suffering cross

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Someone left a prayer book open in the rain
And the printed lines blurred
Ink smudged our fingers when we prayed

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Let every line be its own revelation

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The line in the painting was surrounded by light
The light in the painting held its breath
On the threshold of a discovery

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If only she could picture
The boundlessness of God drawing
An invisible thread through the starry spaces

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If only she could paint
The horizon without limits

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A horizontal line is a pilgrimage

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A segment of devotion wrested from time

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An infinitely gentle mark on a blank page

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The stripe remains after everything else is gone

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It is a wisp of praise with a human hand

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It is singing on a bare canvas