We have a small landscape painting on our wall by our friend Lisa and I find it hard to walk past every time I see it. At first glance it is fairly unremarkable, a brushed dark forest of tall pines, a wild grey sky. But right at its core the grasses are touched with a welcoming gold, a path into the darkness. And if you’re led there, a small dab of blood, of fire, of some heat beyond the trees. The painting pulls you in. Or tries to.
So an image is crucial, but it isn’t enough.
One landscape painting is a landscape painting only, is every other landscape painting, a facsimile we walk past, having seen it. And another draws us beyond the frame: makes our heart the landscape. Draws us inside.
It is something human that pulls us in. That red dab of vulnerability. Death, fear, sorrow, love–that swath or stroke of blood or fire is longing: which gives the image atmosphere. Which calls us in.
In Doug Ramspeck’s slow and haunting series of couplets in “Crow Epistles” we are presented: winter. Crows that go beyond a river. Crow calls in a bare landscape. Snow tracks leading to the door. The moon. This is beautiful and lyrical enough, but landscape alone. What gives this natural world and this poem its fire, its blood, its longing, are its first two stanzas. Its father flown off. So the poem haunts.
My father flew away finally
with the crows. And then it was winter.
We heard him calling sometimes
from the woods as snow came down.
It was a kind of faith, the falling snow.
And always the crows seemed harmless
in the trees. The hours were blind
beyond the river, an offering
of masked leaves and brown earth,
the wet smell of mud in the swales,
snow prints in our dreams that arced
down to the river then back,
approaching the back door
like tooth marks in an apple.
And once we saw a lone black feather
dropped and resting in the falling
snow, snow that wanted nothing
from the field but its erasure.
And come morning the crows
were gathering in the distance,
watching the snow coming down,
the obelisks of their black bodies
motionless, the way you might
imagine a prayer arising
from the stillness of a breath.
Though later, after dark, the nightly
drama of the moon conducted
its pale sojourn above the trees,
where it briefly stayed before
drifting its smoke toward the river.