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Hopper's People.

For Christopher & Rooster
 There is no way to tell
 what the middle-aged woman
 who sits alone on her bed is thinking
 at the moment the pale morning light
 enters the room and spills across her nakedness.
 Perhaps she is musing on the escape plans
 of the businessman reading his evening paper
 while his dark-haired wife in half shadow
 fumbles absently at the keys on the piano,
 already bored with their young marriage,
 the brown door on the wall behind them
 a simultaneous oasis of possibility and
 statement of oppression.
 So many curtainless windows and closed doors
 highlighting the clever illusion of paint:
 vacant squares and rectangles
 that provide no true escape, merely egress
 into yet another Hopper interior
 that tells a similar story, trapped as we all are
 inside our own cubicles of memory
 and the compulsion to revisit regret.
 People at work fascinated him.
 It wasn't the actual work itself
 that deserved such attention, but those
 performing the work:
 some unobtrusive clerk or secretary,
 their sexuality cocooned in tight office clothes
 that constrain more than they entice.
 You would think the world had gone
 deaf or that these numbed people,
 self-absorbed and lost to each other,
 had nothing left to say,
 buried beneath the night's sadness inside a diner
 or an automat with its stale berry pies
 locked behind small glass doors.
 A woman wearing a white hat sits at a table
 sipping her coffee with one glove on--
 the night presses its black face against the window
 behind her. A pretty blond usherette
 working at a local theater slips a dark sierra
 between herself and those watching a film,
 then descends into the Technicolor cinema
 playing in her own head. And along Main Street
 one bright Sunday morning in late summer
 only a striped barber pole is awake enough
 to make any noise.
 So many dusks have piled up here, identical blurs,
 collected like discarded cans of used motor oil.
 This is a landscape where you might expect
 something startling to occur
 at civilization's last outpost before the frontier--
 a spaceship to appear overhead,
 a blonde wearing red lipstick and driving a red convertible
 to pull up seeking directions to Hollywood.
 But nothing like that ever happens in this place,
 just the hunched shoulders of an innocuous
 middle-aged man checking on his three red gas pumps
 with their insufferably blank white faces
 bolted upright alongside a deserted dirt road
 that empties abruptly into pine woods.
 Hopper's buildings and shadows
 are always more expressive than the people
 who reside in space that feels unoccupied.
 So, Gas
 is less about the attendant and his gas pumps
 than the vista of trees and sky
 that exact a quiet whimper
 from the man himself--or is it the viewer
 who makes this utterance--as both are overwhelmed
 by the certain nature of Nature's indifference.
 And while the man tries to keep busy,
 his station clean and well-lighted, open for business,
 the only business to be conducted on this road tonight
 concerns an aging man and his thoughts
 as darkness descends around him,
 and darker still lurks further down the road
 at the vanishing point, that bend
 where the forest dissolves into green pines
 gone shapelessly black.
 Hopper's people wait alone,
 even when others inhabit the same room.
 We are left to imagine what it is they are
 waiting for--the way late autumn sunlight
 casts itself on the side of a white house,
 evoking a particular emotion that cannot be
 easily communicated.
 Hopper's people stare blankly
 out of open windows and framed doorways.
 We are left to imagine what it is they are
 looking at" perhaps some tragedy
 undergone years ago, but remembered still--
 or a premonition about to arrive,
 the ineluctable approach of sorrow.
 Hopper's people have nowhere to go,
 static in sunlight or daydreaming on a train.
 We are left to imagine where
 they come from and where they are going--
 perhaps, if they knew how carefully we have been
 observing them, they might pull down the window shade
 or go back indoors, shamed by what their clothes
 fail to hide.
 When for the last time I touched
 the cold alabaster of my horizontal father's
 hands and face, both gone hard as marble,
 it was like gazing at one of Hopper's
 railroad scenes. No train in sight,
 it having already passed this junction,
 and no future trains on the schedule.
 A vacated station house was all that remained
 strung with long shadows cast by early
 morning light or seamlessly blending
 into the sunset's encroaching darkness.
 Stretch of empty track leading to nowhere. 
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Author:Magistrale, Tony
Publication:Harvard Review
Article Type:Poem
Date:Jun 1, 2013
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