Painting A Wave

By Howard Moss 1922–1987 Howard Moss
“Painting a wave requires no system,”
The painter said, painting a wave.
“Systems may get you flotsam and jetsam,
Seaweed and so forth. But never a wave.”

There was a scroll or fine-lined curve
On the canvas first, and then what looked
Like hair flying or grayish nerves,
Which began to move as the painter worked.

“Painting the sea is a lot of trouble;
It never stops still for a moment, so
I try to make it internal, mental,
As though I stopped it, then let it go.”

Something began to pulse and tumble
Out of the brushes, the ink, the chalk;
A long black line commenced to tremble,
Then, like a fishline, started to jerk . . .

With what at the end? “I think I’ve caught it.”
A drop of water hung by a hair.
“If I could only stop it a minute!”
The drop began to race somewhere,

Spreading out in every direction,
A bird of thread, caught in a storm,
Trying to say, “Connection! Action!”
But in the end it was very calm.

Soon there was water under water,
And over the sand a sun . . . a moon?
Who could have seen that wave of water
One night ago? Or a thousand and one?

Who could have seen the lid of water
With its thin mascara of buoys and corks,
With its lined horizon’s distant glimmer
Of maybe a skyline like New York’s?

Now there will be that morning evening
Tide dyeing the water’s pulse,
The wave drying in ink. The Wave.
Moving, momentous, motionless.

Howard Moss, “Painting A Wave” from New Selected Poems, published by Atheneum. Copyright © 1985 by Howard Moss. Reprinted by permission of Estate of Howard Moss.

Source: New Selected Poems (Atheneum Publishers, 1985)

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Poet Howard Moss 1922–1987

Subjects Nature, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Arts & Sciences, Painting & Sculpture

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza, Ekphrasis

 Howard  Moss


Howard Moss was the poetry editor of the New Yorker for almost forty years. In that influential capacity, this quiet, unassuming man was one of the key figures in American letters in the late twentieth century, boosting the careers of many young poets by publishing their work in one of the few mass circulation magazines which bought poetry and paid well for it. Writing in World Literature Today, Ashley Brown observed that "it . . .

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SUBJECT Nature, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Arts & Sciences, Painting & Sculpture

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza, Ekphrasis

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