Silver Notes

Poems and photographs by Michael Dylan Welch

The following are poems and observations I read on my SAM Remix artwalking poetry tour around the Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park on 27 August 2010, with photographs of all the artwork and additional inspirations. The numbers correspond to twenty-three tour stops on the map. I wrote nearly all of these poems specifically for this event. I begin and end with a poem by Wendy Cope, from which this sequence gets its name. Except for “Flowers on the Roof of Hell,” the haiku and senryu selections, and poems temporarily omitted, all poems were first written in August of 2010, at the sculpture park.

#1 — At the tour starting point (see map).

New Season

by Wendy Cope

No coats today. Buds bulge on chestnut trees,

and on the doorstep of a big, old house

a young man stands and plays his flute.

I watch the silver notes fly up

and circle in blue sky above the traffic,

travelling where they will.

And suddenly this paving stone

midway between my front door and the bus stop

is a starting point.

From here I can go anywhere I choose.

#2 — Runoff rocks.


Look, a pile of rocks

in a trapezoidal shape

here to collect rainwater

draining off the roof.

Is it art?

I guess not,

because there’s no sign

saying who made it.

#3 — Ellsworth Kelly’s “Curve XXIV.”

Curve XXIV, 1981

“I’m not interested in the texture of a rock, but in its shadow.” —Ellsworth Kelly

What is more interesting, the curve of rust

or the cracks in the concrete behind it,

the polished metal railing to keep us away,

as if we’re diseased,

or the splotch of oxidization

under the curve’s drippiest point?

What is more interesting, the orange silence,

the blast of a train horn,

the hum of traffic,

or the shuffling of feet?

What is more interesting,

the artist, the art, or you?

#4 — Roxy Paine’s “Split.”

Silver Tree

Nothing to say,

the tree just bends

listing toward the bay

as if to send

a silent message,

as if to say

if it could speak

that it seeks


nothing at all

but to be seen.

#5 — Andrew Dadson’s “Black Paint.”

Black Paint

What I want to know is,

is the paint biodegradable,

will the grass survive its painting,

will the pink flowers that bloom in the daylight

pollinate their own ideas of art

in your mind?

#6 — Along Moseley Path

Sixteen Senryu

after the verdict

the arsonist

lights up

bending for a dime

two businessmen

bump heads

Mexican cantina—

the waiter says

bon appetite

hazy summer afternoon—

the smog-check mechanic

puffs a cigar

her swollen head . . .

the astrologer

seeing stars

billboard lady

in a bikini—

three-car pileup

first confession—

his parking meter


grocery shopping—

pushing my cart faster

through feminine protection

express checkout—

the fat woman counts

the thin man’s items

visiting mother—

again she finds

my first grey hair

the understudy

steps out from rehearsal

to view the eclipse

afternoon mail—

the stamp from Australia

upside down

kindergarten Christmas pageant—

a wise man

loses his beard

after divorce

the plant she left

grows on me

clicking off the late movie . . .

the couch cushion


at his favourite deli

the bald man finds a hair

in his soup

#7 — Alexander Calder’s “Eagle.”

Calder’s Eagle

If you didn’t know the point

of Calder’s sculptures,

there, right there—

there’s the point of Calder.

#8 — Claes Oldenburg’s “Typewriter Eraser, Scale X.”

Typewriter Eraser

Look out! The earth

is being erased

by a giant stenographer!

This earth is not as archaic

as these anachronistic artifacts,

this earth,

yet here we are,

trying to erase it.

How did you erase

the earth today?

How did I?

#9 — Tony Smith’s “Wandering Rocks.”

Wandering Rocks

You could sit here if you wanted,

stake out a claim

and say these rocks are yours,

but what if I wanted to do that too,

claim this as my own Jerusalem?

Would we get along,

you and I,

or would we have to leave these rocks

wandering forever

in the dark?

#10 — Tony Smith’s “Stinger.”

Flowers on the Roof of Hell

in this world

we walk on the roof of hell

gazing at flowers

—Issa (1763–1828)

Today Issa came over for dinner.

Nothing fancy, just Thai take-out from the place down the road.

He came on foot, carrying a satchel.

I welcomed him at the door, and he removed his sandals.

The low evening sun sparkled

through the tall glass of water I gave him.

He admired it before he drank it in one go.

I showed him to the living room, where he sat on the couch,

almost delicately. Then, as if conscious

of his bare feet, he curled them up under himself.

We talked of poetry all through dinner,

stray noodles landing on the plain wooden table as we ate.

We talked of favourite poets and poems,

and the challenge of writing freshly about old subjects.

We talked of writing one’s joy in a fiercely crushed world,

of flowers on the roof of hell.

When he told me it was time for him to go,

I asked if I could give him a ride

but he declined, as I knew he would.

He had a long way to travel,

but held a finger to his lips and gently shook his smile.

Then Issa took his sandals in hand

and padded off into the dark.

I opened the satchel he left behind.

Inside it bloomed white asters.

#11 — Teresita Fernández’s “Seattle Cloud Cover.”

Seattle Cloud Cover

Who needs art when you can look

at the clouds above, the bay

and the mountains beyond?

Who needs art, except to be reminded

to really see?

#12 — At the prow of the bridge overlooking the eye benches and water fountain.

After Dinner

[poem omitted temporarily]

#13 — Overlooking Elliott Bay and Puget Sound.


Are the mountains really there

across the sound?

At night you cannot tell

but for the sound

of field mice

drinking the glaciers.

#14 — Under a security camera.


Smile, you’re on camera.

They want to make sure

you don’t steel

the Calder.

#15 — Roy McMakin’s “Untitled” (concrete bench).

Confessions of a Learnéd, and Publishing, Professor

[poem omitted temporarily]

#16 — Near Mark di Suvero’s “Bunyon’s Chess” (at the left, on the grassy slope).

Seasoning (haiku and senryu in a baker’s dozen)

scattered petals . . .

the thud of my books

in the book drop

mountain spring—

in my cupped hand

pine needles

tulip festival—

the colors of all the cars

in the parking lot

meteor shower . . .

a gentle wave

wets our sandals +

summer moonlight

the potter’s wheel


first day of school—

I eat my buckwheat pancakes

in silence

a crab apple

from the highest branch

rattles down the rain spout

first cold night—

the click of your domino

as we play by the fire +

first snow . . .

the children’s hangers

clatter in the closet

warm winter evening—

the chairs askew

after the poetry reading

Valentine’s Day—

she reminds me

to fasten my seatbelt +

hospital waiting room—

the drinking fountain

stops humming





#17 — Beverly Pepper’s “Perre’s Ventaglio III.”

Perre’s Ventaglio III, 1967

Okay, the obvious thing about these unfolding books

is that they’re nested like matryoshka dolls,

you know the ones I mean,

with another surprise inside each one,

as you peel down

to another layer of onion.

But what’s not so obvious

is where the layers end.

#18 — Sign next to the Beverly Pepper sculpture.

Signspotting #1

The sign warns

Please do not touch.

Touching can harm the art.

But what if the art touches you?

Can you be harmed too?

#19 — Sign just to the north of the previous sign.

Signspotting #2

My friend’s poem about wildflowers

tells me that no one sees the stems.

Here, before now,

did anyone notice this sword fern,

its serrated edge cutting the wind?

Would we have noticed,

if it weren’t for its sign?

Bend your hand to its art,

feel, feel its reminder.

#20 — At the northernmost tip of Richard Serra’s “Wake” sculpture.

dig into the gravel

Serra made

that part of the sculpture too

#21 — Richard Serra’s “Wake” sculpture.


(for Richard Serra and Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park)

Am I a wake, a fleeting ceremony

in memory of a passing freighter?

Or am I a whale with a rusted dorsal fin

seeking the light but never coming up for air,

never diving, endlessly unsurfaced, an island of regrets?

You walk among my serpentine limbs,

drench me with your eyes,

touch me with your whispers,

and I remain unmoved.

Am I a maze? Are you amazed?

Do you find what you seek, or leave something behind?

I can give you no answers,

because I cannot hear your questions.

Instead, you must talk to the gravel,

sing to the sky.

Only you can know the path to your tomorrow.

As for me, awake or a wail, I will stay here, here

in the lumbering twilight.

#22 — Sign just south of Richard Serra’s “Wake” sculpture.

do not touch the art

the sign makes the neon buddha

want to touch it

#23 — Paccar Pavilion terrace, near the start of my tour.

The Pen Is Mightier than the Sword

[poem omitted temporarily]

New Season

by Wendy Cope

No coats today. Buds bulge on chestnut trees,

and on the doorstep of a big, old house

a young man stands and plays his flute.

I watch the silver notes fly up

and circle in blue sky above the traffic,

travelling where they will.

And suddenly this paving stone

midway between my front door and the bus stop

is a starting point.

From here I can go anywhere I choose.