"there's no through trail" —Han-Shan, translated by Gary Snyder

Goya’s Black Paintings, Melville’s White Whale by David Salner


Issue: Spring 2017

Goya’s Black Paintings, Melville’s White Whale


Melville looked out and beheld a pale horse
and from that derived the idea that white,
the absence of color, is more horrifying to us
than black. He had his own reasons. But if alive today,
he might have listed the white sun beating down
on cities—bombed-out, no drinking water—or the milky froth
on the waves overwhelming a crowded ferry. We are there—
feel the surf on the trembling hull, as we await a white
vortex that will suck us like jettisoned luggage
down to a final refuge. We implore the one nation—
shining in its ghostly correctness—to resolve
our refugee status. But how long should we wait
for a capsizing nation? Oh Goya, is the blackness you painted
more frightening than the white storm we live in?

David Salner worked for 25 years as an iron ore miner, steelworker, and general laborer. His writing has appeared in Threepenny Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, Salmagundi, River Styx, and many other magazines. His third book is Blue Morning Light and features poems on the paintings of American artist George Bellows. He is the winner of this year’s Lascaux Review Poetry Prize and many other awards.