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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 17: 29 Jan. 2023
Poem: 142 words
By Joanne Durham

The Only Familiar Thing

You can see anything in a blank sky, 
even one swirled purple and improbably 
green, with white streaks your mind conjures 
as light, because light is the only familiar thing 
along this desolate highway. You can imagine 
a kneeling maiden and a knight sweeping towards her, 
one of those preposterous feathered hats 
in his hand, or let the white simply 
be rain. Be careful, though, 
now that you’ve seen that woman it’s hard 
to make her disappear, you want to lift 
her bowed head, you want her to kick 
up her heels and leave her apologies 
behind, but the landscape is a trap 
of fog. You can’t do much 
but keep driving, hoping the sliver of light 
that separates sky from murky earth 
is leading somewhere you’d both rather be. 

—Inspired by Helen Frankenthaler’s Driving East (2002)*



*Publisher’s Note:

Driving East (acrylic on canvas), by the American color-field abstract painter Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011), resides in a private collection. An image of the painting may be viewed in the online gallery at Helen Frankenthaler Foundation:

Joanne Durham
Issue 17 (29 January 2023)

is the author of To Drink from a Wider Bowl, winner of the Sinclair Poetry Prize (Evening Street Press, 2022), and On Shifting Shoals (Kelsay Books, January 2023). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry South, NC Literary Review, The Ekphrastic Review, Dodging the Rain. and many other journals and anthologies. She is an Associate Editor at Evening Street Review. She lives on the North Carolina coast, with the ocean as her backyard and muse.

For more about her books, awards, background, and sample poems, please visit her website, Word Sense:

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