Derek Ellis


Constable, in Hampstead,
paints hundreds of clouds

in oils on paper. He’s precise,
dating them, adding commentary

to their backs. His wife’s health
is nodding away like a memory.

We call them “Cloud Studies”
but he wasn’t studying clouds—

He nailed them to paper. Moments
where grief leads a horse by its mane

to the boundary line and then
lets go. He was locating the strokes

of the unspeakable
as it acted upon his life.

Grief floats, and makes
the eye so hungry

it will feed on air.

The way my mother would sit,
smoking, in her room

at the end of each day as the dark
grew outside her window—

She allowed the air to filter
her feelings.

I said nothing—
and Constable, painting

these clouds, some
so light I can see the sky’s

ridiculous boundary. I step toward it,
step over it, into the unknown—

a sky riddled with cloud after cloud,
then a clearing of stars—then clarity.

Dates are insignificant,
the way pain or paint isn’t. 

The way smoke yellows all it touches.

DEREK ELLIS lives in rural Kentucky and holds an MFA from the University of Maryland. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Five Points: A Journal of Literature and Art, Prairie Schooner, The Ninth Zine, and Leavings Literature Magazine.

Read more by Derek Ellis:

Poem in Leavings
Tweets at @aDerekEllis