I used to paint most every afternoon,

just a brush, a few tubes, a little canvas.

I’d spread what it was I had around,

see what formed from the messes I made.

You said, “Paint, that stuff is poison,

like lead, like lye, like mercury;

get it on your hands and it could do some damage.”

I said, “That explains a few things.

But since we’re talking about paint and poison,

would you like to get a cup of coffee?”


I just paint

I just paint


I used to watch you for hours

in your noise and your colors and lights.

It was like you swallowed a chunk of the tongue of God,

which hit your belly, then your fingers, then your teeth.

You said, “My belly, well mostly it feels empty and my fingers have started to bleed.

My teeth could crack at almost any moment.

I don’t know what it is that I want, or what I need.”


I just paint

I just paint


Now, like God, this will demand a conversion;

strip you bare, make you say what it is you’re scared of.

Like God, this will certainly divide you

from what you think and what you love.”

So you sit and sip your coffee.

You consider the blackness of your cup.

You say, “Paint … I thought you were a singer.

Now all this talk of canvas and God.”

I said, “Songs … that stuff is poison; link absinthe, like LSD.

Get it in your head and it’ll do some damage."

As for me (as for me) …


I just paint

I just paint

I just paint


(Life Underwater Music,  2000)

James O'Brien