The Crippled Artist

by Thomas McGrath

Thomas McGrath


Harsh, even to the callous ear,
He scuffs along the street in his coarse boots.
The dreaming citizens, hustling, do not hear—
Or so he thinks. And thinks them blind as bats
Were once thought blind. Propelled into the day
By racking rents, childwife and holy car
That steers them constant toward a falling star—
Mechanized Christs up on the sacred ways—
And old coots, down cats, whores and tearaways—they ramble all


All around him. he thinks he must be glass,
Cloudy, perhaps; smudged, smoky—a bit crazed
Somewhere at center. And so he comes to pass—
Being occulted—where the rest is prized
By middleclass flowerfallahs gilding the gilded stalk
Of the golden lily in fence protected yards.
Above him fly the bright incontinent birds-
Milwaukee Avenue: his daily walk,
Where now the lengthening autumnal sun gives back the lacquered
oak leaves' luster.


He'd like to take them home: the flowers, the light-
But all light falters in the narrow room
He paints in—which he wants to call his home.
Half-bat-bind, what does he want? he wants insight
or outsight: his room blazes like a noon sun-ranch.
When people lose the vision, they think lost.
He does. His paint-hand, like a willow branch,
Twitches, storm-tossed. First things become last.
Still he persists, prizing the fallen light, expendable, now dying
in the street


And still he struggles: to take them back alive-
Flowers, birds, street, people the light that lies
Still in some alleys. It is a kind of love,
Perhaps, that sends him into those dark ways
To search the wreckage for some living thing:
To celebrate! Breath held, he lifts his arm . . .
Strength flows to hand. . .it flies. . .as if a wing!
And light illuminates all that he loves to praise!
The centuries fall asleep: the adamantine walls soften-scary-

Working, he thinks:
The lyf so short, the craft so long to lere. . .
Despair so easy. Hope to hard to bear.

Last updated February 16, 2023