Elizabeth Bishop

Brazil, January 1, 1502

. . . embroidered nature . . . tapestried landscape.
––Landscape Into Art, by Sir Kenneth Clark
Januaries, Nature greets our eyes exactly as she must have greeted theirs: every square inch filling in with foliage–– big leaves, little leaves, and giant leaves, blue, blue-green, and olive, with occasional lighter veins and edges, or a satin underleaf turned over; monster fernsin silver-gray relief, and flowers, too, like giant water lilies up in the air––up, rather, in the leaves–– purple, yellow, two yellows, pink, rust red and greenish white; solid but airy; fresh as if just finished and taken off the frame. A blue-white sky, a simple web, backing for feathery detail: brief arcs, a pale-green broken wheel, a few palms, swarthy, squat, but delicate; and perching there in profile, beaks agape, the big symbolic birds keep quiet, each showing only half his puffed and padded, pure-colored or spotted breast. Still in the foreground there is Sin: five sooty dragons near some massy rocks. The rocks are worked with lichens, gray moonbursts splattered and overlapping, threatened from underneath by moss in lovely hell-green flames, attacked above by scaling-ladder vines, oblique and neat, “one leaf yes and one leaf no” (in Portuguese). The lizards scarcely breathe; all eye sare on the smaller, female one, back-to, her wicked tail straight up and over, red as a red-hot wire. Just so the Christians, hard as nails, tiny as nails, glinting, in creaking armor, came and found it all, not unfamiliar: no lovers’ walks, no bowers, no cherries to be picked, no lute music, but corresponding, nevertheless, to an old dream of wealth and luxury already out of style when they left home–– wealth, plus a brand-new pleasure. Directly after Mass, humming perhaps L’Homme armé or some such tune, they ripped away into the hanging fabric, each out to catch an Indian for himself–– those maddening little women who kept calling, calling to each other (or had the birds waked up?) and retreating, always retreating, behind it. spoken = David Hoak