Thomas McGrath

The Crippled Artist

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Harsh, even to the callous ear,
He scuffs along the street in his coarse boots.
The dreaming citizens, hustling, do not hear--
Or so he thinks. And thinks them blind as bats
Were once thought blind. Propelled into the day
By racking rents, childwife and holy car
That steers them constant toward a falling star--
Mechanized Christs up on the sacred ways--
And old coots, down cats, whores and tearaways--they ramble all


All around him. he thinks he must be glass,
Cloudy, perhaps; smudged, smoky--a bit crazed
Somewhere at center. And so he comes to pass--
Being occulted--where the rest is prized
By middleclass flowerfallahs gilding the gilded stalk
Of the golden lily in fence protected yards.
Above him fly the bright incontinent birds-
Milwaukee Avenue: his daily walk,
Where now the lengthening autumnal sun gives back the lacquered
oak leaves' luster.


He'd like to take them home: the flowers, the light-
But all light falters in the narrow room
He paints in--which he wants to call his home.
Half-bat-bind, what does he want? he wants insight
or outsight: his room blazes like a noon sun-ranch.
When people lose the vision, they think lost.
He does. His paint-hand, like a willow branch,
Twitches, storm-tossed. First things become last.
Still he persists, prizing the fallen light, expendable, now dying
in the street


And still he struggles: to take them back alive-
Flowers, birds, street, people the light that lies
Still in some alleys. It is a kind of love,
Perhaps, that sends him into those dark ways
To search the wreckage for some living thing:
To celebrate! Breath held, he lifts his arm . . .
Strength flows to hand. . .it flies. . .as if a wing!
And light illuminates all that he loves to praise!
The centuries fall asleep: the adamantine walls soften-scary-

Working, he thinks:
The lyf so short, the craft so long to lere. . .
Despair so easy. Hope to hard to bear.

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Thomas McGrath