The Apprentice of the Dead

He painted the lines of the country road.
He painted the leaves: saffron and gold.
He painted the canopy, round the mere,
all rubicund this time of the year.

He painted the trees, without any bark.
He painted the swamp, pickerel-dark;
the cattails, herons, the Berkshires east,
the Katerskills west, where the sun had ceased

to show itself, but still cast its light
up on the clouds, neon-pink and bright.
(Giddily gobsmacked inside the Loeb,
he wanted to wear that River School robe.)

He studied their paintings. The picturesque
celestial clouds shone down on his desk
in his studio-flat, where he would write,
about the same clouds: neon-pink and bright.


View from the Wallkill Valley (a Tanka)

Like a submarine:
gray flanks and conning-tower—
or Leviathan—
rising out of the water—
the rugged Shawangunks crest!


The Things that Keep One Grounded

(I am reprieved: “The cows are out next door!”)
When plunged in deepest, philosophic thought,
the time will come when I will have to chore…

Plumbing the bottoms of some question or
trying to find an answer where there’s naught,
I’m spurred to act: The cows are out next door.

I read sometimes; I sit too still. Explore
conundrums of society. I’ve sought
to find a healthy medium: I chore

to balance overthinking. It’s a bore;
and I will have to feed the grain I’ve bought
to cows who presently are out next door,

to chickens, pigs, or calves who don’t implore
philosophers for answers which are caught
in riddled webs. The time will come to chore.

I know that I must fight a local war
work with my hands, live simply, although fraught
by lowly tasks. The cows are out next door.
(Quit writing, then.) I’ll get them in, then chore.


Sonnet for Jervis McEntee

You knew the intimacy of snow-storms,
the muted colors of this no-name town.
You knew the backwoods kid and the hunched form
of a fatigued man who would not know renown.
These overcast skies, you knew, this muddy
barnyard; leaf-litter, ash, and tawny grass.
You were a Painter who saw the beauty
of a quiet country life and Autumn’s pass.

McEntee, you were one of us born late:
no longer en vogue, passé, a Poet
who’d loathe these modish terms. You were a great
friend, husband, Christian, diarist. We know it
now. Melancholy forged your pensive art;
and thus I see, in these bare hills, your heart.


Reid McGrath is a poet living in the Hudson Valley of New York.

Featured Image: “The Hudson River Valley” by Jervis McEntee

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One Response

  1. "Wired Clues" Abe

    Travelling New York, you may have walked with the gods, down its winding paths, Reid McGrath. I very much admire your tanka, View From the Wallkill Valley. It does so much within the confines of the tanka’s meagre syllables. It captures that spectacular vista through a vivid double simile. No syllable is wasted—even the two the’s are appropriate here. I particularly enjoy the modern diction and the realism of your picture. You have brought the tanka to the American landscape in a manner that is genuine and heartfelt. Your poem is the equal to any of similar length of the American Imagists. Who other than you could have seen that vision?


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