Imaginary Paintings: Poet in Garret, November

POET IN GARRET, NOVEMBER

~attributed to Jan Vermeer, 1703

You see at once that she’s cold,

the way she hunches

over the table in the fireless

room. Light from one small

window slants across her page.

She is half-turned toward you,

her lips are parted, her eyes

focused on a word appearing

just above your right shoulder.

LABYRINTH

Red boards, white halls.

Posters and paint.

 

The inside of a piano. 

A washer full of light.

 

Two stairways

to one long corridor.

 

You do not have a clue.

You do not need one.

 

If you are lost, cry out,

no doubt someone

 

will hear you.

You will always be found.

 

What you do 

is up to you.

 

At the center—

no minotaur—

 

a glass door. Behind it,

earnest, commanding

 

fairies are waiting.

What did you expect?

 

Their Queen,

at first glance seems

 

innocent, unwinged.

Little do you know. 

 

Her throne a desk.

Her wand a pen.

 

Enter at your peril. 

Are you ready

 

to love the edges?

To practice not-doing?

 

Are you ready

to change your life?

 

 

 

DRAWING LESSON

I wrote this years ago for my friend Maggie, who at age 80 started modeling for art students, because, she said, “They need to know what old people look like.”  She liked the poem, and recorded herself reading it back to me. She died a couple of years ago, in her 90s. I miss her.

 

DRAWING LESSON

—in memory of Maggie Miller

 

Here you are, most with a world ahead,

some with half a world behind,

come to draw the human form.

And here I am naked before you

so comfortable, easy

in my eighty year old skin.

 

I love my folds,

metamorphosed mountains.

You think you can draw 

an old woman, dear babies?

Lean in, look hard.

It will cost you all your life.

 

I have been down deep, 

through muscle, sinew, bone.

Loved long a man long dead,

borne a son and let him go.

I am learning how to pray

and I laugh when you ask me to tell.

 

In my time I have come

to the heart’s solid core–

heat of life and more–

Now over you I pour 

my fire like water.

From where I lie I see

the place the stars will rise.

 

COMMUNION

COMMUNION

 

All morning we cleaned the shed beside the church—

one of those places all over America

where the hungry poor come to stand in line

for day-old bread and canned beans,

for commodity tubes of hamburger,

bags of shredded orange cheese,

MRE-style pouches of beef stew.

We hauled out the cardboard and the plastic 

from the cases of cans of corn 

and mac-and-cheese and fruit cocktail.

We scrubbed down the rusty metal shelves;

we vacuumed up the dust, tidied the refrigerators.

We made room in the freezers 

for the dated meats and donuts and pies 

another crew pickes up from the market.

 

We didn’t talk much. 

We know each other well enough 

to work in silence— 

four women, the Tuesday volunteers,

each of us old enough to have a few scars.

At noon, Phyllis handed out some 

blueberry muffins she’d baked. 

We took a break, ate 

standing outside in the parking lot

in the late September sunshine.

Then we got back to work.

THE FEAST OF ST. WALPURGA

THE FEAST OF ST. WALPURGA

 

I have just returned

but before I sleep

I must record.

 

The moon was dark,

the sky was clouded.

Earthscent was rising

 

up from the valley

into the cold air

along the ridge.

 

We came in our silence,

lit the fire in silence. 

When they arrived,

 

we sang the words

to set them free.

While we waited then

 

for the flames to die,

while we waited

in our silence

 

with the long darkness

around us, a pair

of owls called 

 

from the forest

down in the trees.

A good omen

 

for the season to come.

The flight home

was uneventful.

MORNING AFTER

(tempera, glitter, found objects on cardboard)

~after Linda Shere

Those splashes of color—

pink, green, yellow—

represent, I believe,

pajamas. Or

sleeping bags.

There’s a plate of—

cookies—on

the table.

Chocolate chip.

Or—possibly—

blueberry muffins?

No. Cookies. 

Art supplies everywhere–

paint, brushes, glue, clay.

Art everywhere.

There’s glitter on everything.

Well, almost everything.

Not on the muffins.

Cookies, I mean.

Feathers.

Coffee filters.

Small plastic animals.

3 hair ties 

or whatever

they’re called. 

Those elastic things.

I’ve never had a daughter,

so I really don’t know.

PORTRAIT

PORTRAIT

(Neo-Realist School, mid 21st century)

ascribed to J. M. P.

 

She could be someone’s grandmother

with her pink cheeks, white hair

in a bun, the immaculate lace

 

collar fastened with a cameo.

She sits in an old-fashioned

lawn chair—a blue that clashes

 

with the blue sky and the blue

flowers of her dress. Her lips

are slightly parted in a slight

 

smile, but her eyes, as she stares

at the viewer, are challenging.

Both hands rest lightly on an

 

animal curled asleep on her lap.

It is the size of a small dog, but

do not be fooled. Notice

 

the fine brush-work.

The artist has perfectly rendered

each guard hair, each glossy quill.