Breakfast Piece

Were this the seventeenth century,

Antwerp or Haarlem, this would be

a painting, this table, earthenware

cup and silver strainer,

black-handled knife, pewter plate, this

tangerine. A wedge of light

from a windowless edge would slice

the chestnut wood, closing around

each object like calyxes of flowers

in a vase removed from this table.​

 

In fact, it was a warm day

in December late

in the twentieth century, a day

I stood in a market looking

at tangerines that called up tile roofs

and cobble streets in any Flemish town.

And Florida or California

had been warmer still the day

a brown-skinned Mexican girl picked

this tangerine that I had picked out

and carried back to lie on this plate,

which could be pewter, next to this

knife, which could be black-handled,

and so on.

The orange of it is perfect

orange collapsed into a scar

that tattles of generality.

 
On this plate or in this painting
this tangerine is absolutely
what it is, select
as though it were meant to be.
And as the light
through the window shifts to reflect
the coming snow, a nimbus
of tangerine illuminates the table,
cup, strainer, knife and plate, selected
for still life by an Old Master.

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