I have finally finished my manuscript, or at least I think I have. I am, no doubt, the type of writer who could go on revising and editing indefinitely. I simply don’t know when to stop. It has been seven years in the making, and I’m still not convinced it is done, but then, it probably will never be. For me, poems are fluid and their movements never have a permanent shape.
Here are a few of their current shiftings:
Self-Portrait, Elizabeth Siddal, 1853-54. Oil on canvas.
Your stiff collar and hair neatly pinned into a chignon
suggest Victorian modesty, yet there is defiance
in your sharply drawn nose, chin slightly raised.
A study in contradictions. You burn slow.
All around you green — a swampy marsh like singed
leaves, sap, wormwood, at once sweet smelling
yet choked with decay. Quickening.
He painted your gaze downcast,
claiming the right to control what your eyes gathered in.
Yet here you are starring back at me, those large, sad eyes
demanding I see you as you are. Confronting me. Boldly.
A viridescent haze around your head like unripe fruit.
Beata Beatrice, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1864-1870. Oil on canvas.
I look at you through his eyes.
The contours of nose and chin brushed onto canvas.
He controls your hair, an ecstatic red, your eyes shut
as if in trance. This last portrait,
completed after your death, paints you
as Dante’s muse. As Beatrice, eternal.
Framed inside a frame, the dove places
a poppy in your hands — already colder
than they once were.
He chose you as his favorite model,
made you his mistress and student.
For hours you sat or stood motionless,
the feeling in your arms gone dead,
while he drew you thin and pale,
with hands and mouth curled shut
like a bud not yet bloomed.
The illness that kept you weak, withdrawn
into darkened rooms with blinds snapped shut,
did not affect your beauty. He told you
you looked most beautiful while sleeping,
painted you languid and heavy-lidded,
as if your eyes had nothing to say,
except when mirroring his own.
He does not like to paint bowls
of apples and pears, decaying roses
in a light filled vase. Chiaroscuro.
The bare scarcity of an object
frightens him, the nakedness of a face
alone in saturated light. Clean cut
shadows on cheekbones.
He surrounds his women
with subtext. Crowns of dainty blossoms,
birds in flight.
A face crowded by symbolism. Silenced.
Leaves and flowers, stylized, pushed up
against the flatness of canvas.
Her eyes are open, yet she is closed
to the world.