Take, for instance, Fred McCubbin’s
“Summer Idyll, 1910”,
how he painted out the nymphs
and left the landscape only,
a bush scene in his favourite greens
open to the bay at Frankston.
A critic for the Argus wrote
the nymphs were a “discordant note”
against the painting’s “modern spirit”
and Fred, it would appear, agreed,
sending the discordant girls
back to Arcady forthwith
by way of the Renaissance,
their tender bottoms, so well-shaped,
unsuited to the rigours of
the eucalypt’s detritus:
the twigs, the bark, the broken branches.
Darker haunches might have served
but they would not have struck for him
the necessary pose,
their owners rummaging for tubers
or shinning up a tree for honey.
Those languid, seated, creamy curves
were painted over, stroke by stroke,
lovingly, we must imagine,
surviving, even now, below
a moderate impasto.
Flattened, flattened, flattened again,
the magpie on the bitumen—
though “in” might be the better word
considering his lost dimension.
Six weeks ago (who knows exactly?)
he would have made that one last swoop,
a bit too low and leisurely,
before the traffic cut him loose.
No one’s come to scrape him off;
his patchwork is persistent though.
On my walk each day I cross
that same relentless bit of road.
Looking both to right and left,
I offer my respectful glance.
The silence in the asphalt there
still has a certain eloquence
although it lacks both throat and eye
and everything but colour’s gone.
Beneath the pressure of the tyres
I hear the edges of a song.