2020 Gulf Coast Prize in Poetry: Goethe’s Theory of the Simorgh

Leyla Çolpan

Out, already, from the west the snowlight
has come crawling,
unsupported, through a knot of crows, to hang

like a beetle wing would hang—sheerly,
iridescent, through force of its own will, the wrong way up—
from the white gypsum of my lintel.

It was Newton, not Goethe,
who imagined color might be knitted, too, from slenderness
into slenderness—from needles, light bending through their razor-

fine stitch—who saw the dead peacock’s feather
would not be broken further by inspection.
In Goethe’s eyes, that tryer, dead colors were still beating,

and no whiteness, no candor could be broken,
only, by watching, beautifully bent—as when snow caught
against a window, as if by surprise, uncoils

faintly out in yellow-blue sheets—
as when, each winter, against stark western light,
the crows evacuate my city.

Their feathers, too, might be rippling, chrysochlorous
from the shifting angles of my window—or fixed like charcoal
to eyes watching from beneath.

You would think someone were, somewhere, burning—
trying to burn—
what could have otherwise been called a rainbow.

And why should feathers make plain with color
their tiny, interior geometries—
volition suggesting, prematurely, flight

Why should the poet, watching, imagine only needles,
disappearing in the scalpel of her sight?
Sharp bird, you have your own color. You are not blunted

by any color of the earth.
The winter sky is full
of nicks,

that wink noisily open overhead—out of reach,
yet still asking me to stretch my fingers through them.
Between white snow, refracting,

and white smoke, refracting, there is a candor
that could unstitch thirty colors from each crow.
It is not the simple mirror that can break you.