Monet Refuses the Operation
Doctor, you say that there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolve
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don’t know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent. The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and changes our bones, skin, clothes
to gases. Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.
~ Lisel Mueller
found at the excellent panhala
My eyes are getting worse. Not just the worse that comes with age but the worse that comes with a degenerative eye disease called keratoconus. I have had keratoconus since I was a teenager, and I’ve become well used to seeing the halos and double images, blurring and other illusions. My eyesight varies with weather and rest and a multitude of other factors but unless I’m wearing my hard, gas permeable contact lenses, my eyesight is pretty bad. Not debilitating, but far from good.. At a distance, even with glasses, I can’t make out faces, and that combined with my aging memory serves to create weird situations, when I call one person by another name and so on. I’m not that old, only 42, but old enough to notice how things have changed.
As my memory gets worse, I can reframe it as living more in the present, but until I found this poem, I had no way of reframing the decline of my eyesight, which is not serious yet by the way, but bad enough that I get sad about it from time to time. I recently had a consultation to see if there was any chance at a new procedure called cross-linking, which is an alternative to an eventual corneal transplant, but the verdict was that I don’t have enough cornea left to make such a procedure possible. Science and technology are constantly advancing though, so perhaps in the future things will change. But for now, I take a lot from this poem, from Monet’s protestations in this poem and especially “I tell you it has taken me all my life to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels, to soften and blur and finally banish the edges you regret I don’t see.”