Ian Reid: ‘Vital signs’

Vital signs
(after Judy Cassab’s painting “Still life with blue table”)

There’s always a sly irony
at this genre’s heart:
life, in fact, can seldom
be stilled for long, so
objects artfully arranged
will soon begin to move again
unless they’ve expired.

Cassab’s painting, now: it draws
the eye only to tease it,
thwarting interpretation.
It gestures toward the real
but in an oddly angled way
as if to make us fish
for a catch of meaning.

In more of a clutter
than a neat composition,
objects on the blue table
may seem moribund.
This twiggy plant
is turning into a trident
while that cylinder

looks like a pot, but
a pot of what? The bottle
is nearly necrotic,
and is that a mirror
reflecting death’s door?
Surfaces appear to lie
on tilted planes.

Not such a still
life, then. Not dying, either.
The paintwork is full
of intense uneasiness—
a vital sign.
The picture lives precisely
because it won’t stay still.

Ian Reid

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