Nils Peterson


With Motherwell by the Sea

         There is no such thing as “accident” really; it is a kind of casualness: it happened, so let it be, so to speak. 
                                                                 Robert Motherwell
         In my window, the reflections of three young men float by like ghosts across the water.  I am at the great sea, the one that goes west and west until it runs out of westness and is east.  The three young men in their bright sweatshirts and shorts hang above the horizon like morning stars, then vanish, just another trick of light playing about the beach, sliding down the dune grass, flashing along where the far out waves now and then trip over themselves on the seatop.  Now one of the young men is back.  He too wears a whitecap.  He turns, there—gone again.  I am an island of silence in the sea sound, the seawind sound, the sound of the refrigerator doing steady work.  Seeing is a collaboration between see-er and window.  Bad seeing is when.... 

         “The main thing,” Motherwell says, “is not to be dead.  And nearly everyone is dead....”

         Last night I dreamed I roared at an animal sphinx-sized and feline across a river.  I too was an animal, or tricked out as an animal, but smaller.  My roaring roused the big one’s fury and it roared back again and again, louder and louder, straining to break its bonds. 

         Motherwell says, “Energy alone can find the new.”


At the Andy Warhol Exhibit

Beyond the soup cans—Pepperpot and Onion—hang
Elizabeth and Marilyn. What would that boy, scarce-bearded
and high-schooled, on his first visit to the Metropolitan in NYC,
have thought of these images among the Reubens? 

Marilyn was yet to marry Joe, much less Arthur.
Elizabeth was yet to fall for Richard again and again.
They were making up the faces we all would know
out of the airy thinness of Hollywood gold.

At the Met, paint was flesh and had been a long time.
I had no irony in me then. Yet here Marilyn and Elizabeth
whom, yes, I loved once, hang on the wall garish but faded,
used up now, like an empty Campbell Soup can.


Scotland, at the Bishop’s House


Room like a prow in the wuthering wind
            and gray clouds running

Over the Loch, a pair of gulls
            in a white-winged twinning

Leaves on the trees clutching their branches
            spinning, spinning

Mistress and dog at the long lawn’s end
            thrown ball, retrieving

White-masted yachts riding gray water
            pitching, heaving

Down creeps the cloud world over the mountains
            obscuring, obscuring

Outside the window, the last bee of summer
            wandering, wondering

A vanguard of raindrops bringing their warning
            of what’s coming, coming.


Against the pane
a fist of wind,
a hurl of rain

I hunker down
books, paper, pen—
badger in den,

not quite content
with time so spent,
for friends now walk

in the wilderness wet,
hooded, bedraggled,
miserable, yet

they’ll return
with a tale or two,
of wonders seen,

some derringdo—
crossing a burn
on a slippery stone

seeking a trail
elusive, gone?
at the day’s end drink

they’ll have much to say.
I’ll have these few words
to remember my day.


Rain on the window,
Rain on the wall
Rain on the rooftop
Covering all

Rain on the mountains
Rain on the towns
Rain on the valleys
Whistling down

Rain on the kingdom
Rain on the seas
Rain will keep falling
Wherever it please.

Waking.  Black-gray trees against gray-black hills against gray skies.
Against the window, a great splat of rain.

Sudden sun. The Loch shimmers like turbulent tinfoil.
Mist lifts—the mountains return, travelers come home.

The short, bent tree leans over the edge like an old man fishing.
Evening. Soft light. Sweet greens shine.  Black dog.  Man in red coat.


Songs From Late Summer


pale moon in a black sky,
inward, solitary, aloof.
moon-lovers, silver with longing
stand in the driveway, then shut
the car door and go inside.


now the rising sun scatters
the tarnished gold of late summer
about the garden.
how lovely day seems
with all its busyness and beauty,
yet, the quiet ghost of a moon
hangs in the blue sky



You think back to childhood 
when the days of summer seemed 
endless, and time long enough.

Then the school bell rang,
and you woke with a jolt
into the mortality of arithmetic.


After supper, it was too dark
to go out again for very long,
then just too dark to go out,

then just too dark. So you begin
to learn to live with Night,
admire her, even love her a little.