Dialogue with an Artist

the lonely

Incorporating the words of L.S. Lowry

I used to paint the sea, but never a shore,
and nobody was sailing on it. It wasn’t even
the sea, it was just my own loneliness.

It’s all there, you know. It’s all in the sea.
The battle is there, the inevitability of it all,
the purpose. When I switched to people

they were all lonely. Crowds are the
loneliest thing of all, I say. Every individual
in them is a stranger to everyone else.

I would stand for hours in one spot
and scores of little kids who hadn’t had
a wash for weeks would group round me.

Had I not been lonely, none of my work
would have happened. I should not have
done what I’ve done, or seen what I’ve seen.

There’s something grotesque in me and I
can’t help it. I’m drawn to others who are
like that. They’re very real people. It’s just

I’m attracted to sadness and there are some
very sad things. These people are ghostly
figures. They’re my mood, they’re myself.

Lately, I started a big self-portrait. I thought
I won’t want this thing, no one will, so
I went and turned it into a grotesque head.

memo to lowry

You’re right, there are grotesques who shine
a dark light that lures us like how the sirens
tried to lure Odysseus, and yes, maybe we
ourselves are among the grotesques, but
there are also the beautiful who, if we’re
lucky, save us from ourselves, and validate
the sun’s light, and maybe also the moon’s.
More Poems by Matthew Sweeney