Anthony Butts

Winner of the William Carlos Williams Award in 2004

The Nut Gatherers


Detroit Institute of Arts
               (William Adolphe Bourguereau, 1882)

When viewed aslant, the painting
reveals the truer glance of the fairer girl—

not quite in the direction of her modest partner
surprised beneath track lights gathering

hulls before patrons and docents
and the guards who keep watch over

the one man angling nearer the horizon
of the frame, the landscape thinning

out of existence before he meets her gaze:
as close as he's ever come to the act of creation.

Someone's wife wanders amidst blown glass—
the mouths blossoming from small sacs

lying flat along the table, the dark throats
bottomless as if emphasizing the lack of roses,

chimerical bodies frozen in mid-scream, light
cast in the visible spectra of voices

like the unspoken shorthand of couples
arguing—her body almost detectable

within the glare as pure light or as
the definition of words left unsaid in the night.

A schoolgirl watches the man before The Nut Gatherers
swaying near the new land's edge, a room

within a room, amongst the gallery's traffic,
which no one enters, a class passing through

indistinguishable from the rest as other doors
open and shut before her. Perhaps she knows what the girl

in the painting knows, that our eyes negate
our wishes as walls assume themselves around us,

inexplicably keeping us warm in winter,
cool in summer, until we finally give in—

the wife opening a door with her eyes,
herself unprepared for what she cannot want.
line

Lucie Brock-Broido on Anthony Butts

Gerard Manley Hopkins (from whom Anthony Butts takes his title) asked in "Spring," "What is all this juice and all this joy?" In rendering his own "low heavens," Butts inhabits a more earthly world where "The dead have desires, the living/ needs." This is a faithful, wise, beautifully crafted book, rampant in its joys and subtle quietudes, its fealty (to its worldliness), its tenderness. In "Fugit Amor," he writes: "The vulnerable are vessels of wisdom." One feels grateful that this graceful book is in and of this world.

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