PRINT November 1995


In this ongoing series, writers are invited to discuss a contemporary work that has special significance for them.
Willem de Kooning, Clam Diggers, 1964, oil on paper on composition board,
20 1/2 x 14 1/2". Collection of David Geffen, Los Angeles.


It might be the light over Antwerp, the Antwerp
of Peter Paul Rubens.
Antwerp. Ostende. The light over water and sand
from any of umpteen

dank-dismal skies, any of umpteen dreary-drab
northern European
skies. But this is the light over Long Island Sound,
over Springs, East Hampton,

where things are ever so slightly out of focus.
We might be forgiven
for thinking that these, for example, are two glam

hoofers from Las Vegas—
two not-so-glam Vegas hookers, even—
rather than a pair of ladies digging for clams.


Rather than a pair of ladies digging for clams
they might be two columns
from an infinitely receding colonnade
of flesh. There’s a dull glint

off the pail, if pail it is, that’s strapped to the back
of one. All’s so opaque
I can’t say if it’s the pail or her tangy cleft
she grabs at with her left
hand which, if it is her left hand, points to the quick
of the matter—the hood
pulled back off her friend’s Venus mercenaria,

as they term the quahog
in these parts, as if her friend would—never mind could—
somehow struggle free of her body’s snare.


Not until she’s struggled free of her body’s snare
as from a farthingale,
not until she’s gone through the hoops of wire and bone
and peeled that great prepuce

back over her own head like a hoop of horsehair
and wire and, I guess, whale-
bone will this clam-digger truly come into her own
in a flurry of pink and purple and puce.

Only when she’s struggled free of the body’s snare
as from a blood-byrnie
will she be one with a light of such amplitude

it struck Leif and Snorri,
Thorvald and Thorbrand, Brand himself, Bjorn and Bjarni,
as they tacked along the coast of Vinland the Good.