after The Swan paintings by Hilma af Klint
These birds know love is not
monochrome / a painless tattoo.
When tentative bill-tips touch
imagine the scope for collaboration,
what colours might spin
from colliding wings.
A blood communion foreshadows
ecstatic airborne struggle.
Wanton-pink bursts of plosion interrupt
of black-white boundary –
When confusion arcs towards
synchronicity, a peace is reached –
worlds twined in cosmic intimacy,
separate entities altered, become one
tender flying creature.
The diagonal past
penetrates secret, squared-off corners.
A swan angel transmits a warning memo,
targets exposed flank
where magic knowledge is stowed
in a safety deposit box
Courtship rituals are repetitive, chaotic
— a day-night disruption of
rising flame, astral flecks falling,
linearity forgotten —
a tumultuous, comic strip.
An axis is a decision in spiralling time.
congregate in ceremonial dance
clamouring for a perfect kiss.
Choose your player, choose a colour: off-white,
Philip Guston pink, rustic orange, autumn rouge.
We’ve been here before
haven’t we? Though something has tilted,
the same necks extended, concurrently reaching
towards a single principle.
Tiles of mass-produced ambitions
duplicate at a rapid pace.
We’ve been here before, haven’t we?
Moon-blue, morning yellow, Venus, Mars etc.
Mathematical nature in all his n hers’ glory,
rings of blank dice suspended in
a portrait of rival fortune.
Is it getting old yet?
Why not reject
what you expect to see?
Instead perceive animal horns,
abacus skirts, women reading
newspapers in public toilets.
[The feathered texture is constant, uncanny].
The feather factory is so pretty
stocked full of wisps of contrasting down,
A static turbine poses as a flower
portending mischief, flurry —
equipment set up ready.
Print & give this image
to your lover on Valentine’s Day
for an instagrammable romance aesthetic,
a coiling colour continuum.
Ask your lover what bird [if any] it evokes.
Turn your reflections upside down.
Notice how the sky ripples,
recall how you always hated
cutting into flawless cakes,
violating their perfectly iced surfaces.
Break the surface, taste crushing zest.
Lovely: softest symmetry,
egg-timer in silhouette; a moonset backdrop
drained of synthetic-candy-blushing sweetness.
A person could die comfortably here
in pearlescent equilibrium
having almost known bliss [pastel happiness].
A one-off encounter in a museum in Stockholm
is not enough to untether pessimism / feed eternal affection.
All the postcards sent since then
have required many quills’ worth of ink.
Your hands are smudged but your mouth
is as clean & plump as a swan’s breast.
A marshmallow moon with a saintly square
stashed within its gleaming womb
is an aspiration, a strange amalgam, a means of
avoiding an investigation into nightfall,
an orb of erotic abstraction
to swoop about in.
An eye contains a multitude of gazes,
a lock without a single correct combination.
From here in a puckered sphere,
it could be a space baby in ether,
a half-droplet of focal ooze,
a target without an arrow.
& something always changes eventually.
The same subject in a different colour
may represent a different problem / an ajarness.
Feather-dust your eyes if necessary.
Arrive at an apex —
a tunnel-vision pinnacle with
an egg-yolk middle
but first traverse bracelets of black, red, blue.
It’s hard, not impossible…
think of all the lovely yellow.
An empty mollusc shell poised centre-stage
whispers through its open-lipped mouth
a message you can’t make out.
Follow its urgent ebbing tone
into the ocean. Wash your
inky hands in muted rainbow waves.
Rotate the shell
till it becomes an ear.
Confide your brightest secrets in
vivid, easy to swallow segments
inspired by the honesty of playgrounds
[not completely safe].
When a phallic star spins itself into
there is a certain satisfaction –
relief in perception abandonment,
3D senselessness you can try to cuddle,
candy-twisted charisma. No hard-feelings.
So much depends
on what lines your eyes align with.
Wander into ‘empty’ delineated space
criss-crossed by angles / clouded by haze.
Which dancefloor in a three-storey
cellophane building should you lay your eggs in?
Such vertical decisions involve
a process of scanning for swans.
Maybe they only come
if you dance with conviction.
No site seems to know
which way up or down the swans ought to go.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter,
perhaps they were hatched from above,
or below, eyes closed — a supple
impression of love.
Note on this poem:
The Swan is an ekphrastic sequence, responding to The Swan, a series of 24 numbered paintings by the Swedish abstract artist and mystic Hilma af Klint, created between 1914-15.
Af Klint said of her work:
"The pictures were painted directly through me, without preliminary drawings and with great power. I had no idea what the pictures would depict and still I worked quickly and surely without changing a single brush-stroke."
I wrote the poems reflexively, responding instinctively to the work – viewed in person, in books and online – making minor edits later.
Poppy Cockburn (2023)