Caley O’Dwyer


Credit photographer: Audrey Mandelbaum






Dark Greens on Blue with Green Band

after Mark Rothko


The world begins again,

blue antecedent to an as yet

unformed idea.


Space without land, without

lines of constant course,

before time and the names


for names, when no vessel

angled on true north,

and there was only


time as possible,

the might be world

preparing to be lived.


A closet that is too small to open

from the inside


opens out and

birds become birds.



becomes God. The voice wakens

and you are to yourself


a stranger. This is

the first part of making

a world, any world


each time it aches

into being. As with

history at large,

everything is claimed

but the area beyond

a narrow inlet


where what will happen

has not been struck,

can’t be foreseen.



[“Dark Greens on Blue with Green Band,” p. 2, continued, new stanza]



You travel there by boat

through a narrow crag

where the serpent


waits in the mouth of the cove,

the stormy petrel soaring

over the crashing ocean


and there is for a time

only rain and tenuous hope

an almost sure loss of life


that if you can bear it

leads to a kind of start,

and if you’re good you know


any start will do, any

little sounding, so go

into the cove


to find a piece

of what you have, dredge it out,

wet and unsightly,


put it with the others

if you can ever find them

in your life


so together they might make

a map of sound,

words you can live by.




Slate Blue on Brown and Plum

after Mark Rothko


You were permeable,


a coolness like truth


with branching tributaries

into rage. It wasn’t possible

at first to love


being least,

but you lasted.

You let down your hair


and followed the marsh

where the harrier toured

with blazing eyes


the flowering rush, great

estuaries to the sea.

You saw yourself in summer’s


splenetic heat, and in the trees

rattling green when evening

banked against the lush auroras.


Shimmering particles

unhinged the bending light,

parts of you


no one could destroy.

You lived to break

where life was breaking,


like water crashing

over a damn, this

force in the calling.



[“Slate Blue on Brown and Plum,” p. 2, continued, new stanza]



But grief knew

your openings. To grief,

you were a permeable mass.


Everything gone

rang as it faded.

Grief stepped into you.


It made you wander

homesick in the music, unsure

who to become.


Too much

to love, too little time to do it,

vicissitude was your nature,


or what you did,

back and forth

between hope and dread.


Then the rain woke

the street and the dream scattered.

You were wholly alive.


From your portion

of the mystery you listened.

The sound was rain


and cold,

then a gradual warming.

Smitten with Earth’s


willful charm,

you ran to the sea

with an appetite so grand



[“Slate Blue on Brown and Plum,” p. 3, continued, new stanza]



it ached like the afterlife

of a bee’s poison, the throbbing limb,

chiming in the throbbing, the bells


inside the bells of wanting.

You were free. You loved

everything that lived.




Rust and Blue

After Mark Rothko


In the meantime are the names—

blue windows through which we see the world

through cloud cover, sea mist, Atlantic rains.

We get by, getting it right, missing

what’s forming there beyond

what we can explain.


I hear silence in sea grasses,

the eel curving its low vowel in a dark opening.

Everything we know is senses,

each name coloring the thing it means.

But we say what we see, even if we are

too small to hold it, even if


we create everything we know.

It takes all to make the world not strange.

It is from within this wandering vessel

that I love the light house, it’s bright hope

beaming, guiding us in, while sea birds

are soaring, drifting out of range.




(from my in-progress book on Mark Rothko paintings, Light, Earth and Blue)












Caley O’Dwyer is a poet, visual artist, and teacher living in Los Angeles. He teaches creative writing and psychology at Antioch University and was previously an Associate Professor in University of Southern California’s Writing Program. His poems have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Prairie Schooner, Cream City Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Warwick Review, Curator Magazine, Ekphrasis, Washington Square, and other venues, including the Tate Modern Museum in London. He is a winner of an Academy of American Poets Prize, a three-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize, and a recipient of a Helene Wurlitzer grant for poetry. His first book, Full Nova, was published by Orchises Press, and his in progress collections, Light, Earth and Blue and American Proverb feature, respectively, poems written in response to the abstract expressionist paintings of Mark Rothko and poems that find in contemporary American culture cause for both terror and humor Caley lives at the Brewery Arts Complex in downtown Los Angeles.

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