Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Past the helpless guards

Imagined winter frost at twilight. iPhone app FX Photo Studio.   jhh

The Concert, by Vermeer

Imagine the man who stole this painting.
He sees himself seated between the two women,
his face averted, safely hidden:
the woman to his right, older, his wife;
the woman at the keyboard, younger, not his wife.
The painting reminds him of possibilities,
the three of them seated there, 
no sound but music,
fragile notes emboldened by the tile floor,
and then no sound.

Thieves have paraded the painting past the helpless guards,
past the ghost of Isabella Stewart Gardner
and the ghost of her dog, which did not bark.
Each day the new owner takes the painting from his vault.
He is learning about provenance, and theft,
how holding is not owning,
how no peace comes with power.
He hears fingers pressing the keys trying to sustain each note
past time, past the limits of memory.
When he presses one of the women close,
time passes and is gone.

Sharon Olson

The Long Night of Flying
Sixteen Rivers Press, 2006, page 40.

This stolen painting by Vermeer can be seen and read about here in Wikipedia; it is still missing.

When you have a lot of poetry books, as I do, it is fun to look for things to share here. I have known Sharon for many years; she worked as a librarian, as I did, and lived in the Bay Area for many years. I never see her any more as she moved east several years ago.

Your task is to write a poem in two stanzas about a painting. Use flowing lines and don't force things into a certain meter or form. The first stanza describes the painting and perhaps makes a little story about what you see. The second stanza goes somewhere else. In this case, about a famous theft and about the moral consequences of owning somethings very valuable that is not yours, really. You could go in another direction suggested to you by the painting, into history, or an autobiographical memory, or whatever else is suggested to you by contemplation of the painting (or other work of art.)

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