The Painter Of The Night

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Pulitzer Prize winning American poet James Tate passed away yesterday. His character driven poetry was much admired. He was born in Missouri in 1943 and was professor of English at the University of Massachusettes. His first book of poems The Lost Pilot, 1967 won the Yale Younger Poets Award and his collection Worshipful Company Of Fletchers won the National Book Award in 1994. At The Clothesline is one of my favourites, so simple yet so powerful. RIP

AT THE CLOTHESLINE 
by James Tate

Millie was in the backyard hanging the
laundry. I was watching her from the kitchen
window. Why does this give me so much pleasure?
Because I love her in a million ways, and because
I love the idea of clean laundry flapping in
the wind. It’s timeless, a new beginning, a
promise of tomorrow. Clothespins! God, I love
clothespins. We should stock up on them. Some
day they may stop making them, and then what?
If I were a painter, I would paint Millie hanging
the laundry. That would be a painting that
would make you happy, and break your heart.
You would never know what was in her mind, big
thoughts, little thoughts, no thoughts. Did she
see the hawk circling overhead? Did she
hate hanging laundry? Was she going to run away
with a sailor? The sheets billowing like sails
on an ancient skiff, the socks waving goodbye.
Millie, O Millie, do you remember me? The man
who travelled with cloth napkins and loved you
in the great storm.

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