The Flood

—when angels fell out of the bookcase along with old newspapers, torn road maps from decades past, and a prize edition of the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry : suddenly the catalogue tumbled. The painting, the show, Peter Blume’s Recollection of the Flood, the studio where I slept as a child those nights when moonlight fingered the looming canvases, the forest of easels, the jug of brushes like a spray of pussy willow boughs—all surged. In Peter’s dream the restorers stand on scaffolding to paint the frescoed shapes between lines the flood has spared: and won’t some massive wave of oil and shit always storm a city’s heart? Restore, restore— there on the ghostly grid the angels dance holding hands in a two-dimensional ballet of bliss, taking on substance with each cautious dab to whirl with wings spread over the very rich hours of what we’ve lost. For they are sleeping on the bench at the foot of the scaffold, the refugees— the exhausted woman clutching her purse, a scrawny girl collapsed in her lap, the huddled, bony old man, bald head in his hand. And everything they’ve saved lies at their feet in a quilt bundle, or stuffed in a box tied with twine, or in that suitcase, desperately genteel. Only the boy is awake. The artist stands apart. Holds in his hands a sketch we cannot see. Blonde curls, like Peter’s. Remembering, perhaps, Cossacks, the flight from Russia, the ship, the Brooklyn tenement where he learned to draw. A jug of brushes stands on the windowsill. The angels keep twirling. I hear, beyond the door, the growl of mountain streams all dragoning down.

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