The Group of Seven Reimagined: Contemporary Stories Inspired by Historic Canadian Paintings
Ekphrastic writing is a sub-genre in creative writing where artworks are used as prompts to inspire prose and poetry. This rare anthology of flash fiction, inspired by historic Canadian paintings, incorporates all the elements of what ekphrastic writing entails. There are twenty-one stories in all, edited by Karen Schauber, that capture the imaginations and a landscape of a time when 20th century Canadians—pioneers—were forging a national identity through art. These stories are diverse, personal, and unique in their brevity and ellipses. They, in turn, forge a new understanding of what national identity encompasses in the twenty-first century for many of us. They make us contemplate on the human condition, on nature, on being human today.
Eva Wong Nava
Eva Wong Nava is the founder of CarpeArte Journal, a platform where art and text intersect.
To view this book on Amazon, click here.
House by the Railroad
This old house peers into us as we peer into it
like Norman Bates
except this Victorian mansion
painted by Edward Hopper in 1925
harbours its own lewd and violent secrets
beyond the railroad tracks
where the human creature never ventures
never saves the day
beyond the fashionable galleries
of New York
where Miss Lonelyhearts will never stir
never get a look in
beyond the dreams and head games of our own
where we see the flesh of improbability
one white wooden building, unhinged
in the late afternoon
no more blood feuds
where the disassociated mind remembers
the puritanical God of childhood
So sorrow seeks sorrow
as the emptiness
of a birdless
Mark A. Murphy
Mark A. Murphy was born in 1969 in the UK. His poetry publications include Tin Cat Alley (1996), Our Little Bit of Immortality (2011), Night-watch Man & Muse (2013) and his next full length collection, Night Wanderer’s Plea is pending from Waterloo Press, UK. His latest collection, To Nora, A Singer of Sad Songs is to be published this year by Clare Songbirds Publishing House in America. He is currently looking for a publisher for his collection of epigrams, Little Known Aphorisms and he is now also working on a full length collection of ekphrastic poems, Word Painting. His poems have been published in 18 countries in over 200 journals in print and online.
Did you know? Edward Hopper's art is probably the most written about by poets. There are multiple anthologies and whole manuscripts by single authors, such as Mark Strand. The Ekphrastic Review consistently receives multiple submissions inspired by the American artist.
When choosing prompts for the ekphrastic poetry challenges, we love to mix favourite paintings or artists with unexpected selections. We strive to introduce you to art you might not be familiar with, as well as surprise you with new stories from art you already knew.
We thought it is only fitting to include a Hopper painting eventually in the challenge prompts, and when that time came, decided to go with the most famous and beloved painting instead of a less predictable choice. How many ways can we approach this painting again? What can we find in it that is new? The challenge this time is come up with a story that hasn't been told. See if you can find a way in this time that does not include the words or themes of "loneliness."
-The Ekphrastic Review
Ekphrastic Writing Challenge: Edward Hopper
Join us for biweekly ekphrastic writing challenges. See why so many writers are hooked on ekphrastic! We feature some of the most accomplished influential poets writing today, and we also welcome emerging or first time writers and those who simply want to experience art in a deeper way or try something creative.
The prompt this time is Nighthawks, by Edward Hopper. Deadline is September 20, 2019.
1. Use this visual art prompt as a springboard for your writing. It can be a poem or short prose (fiction or nonfiction.) You can research the artwork or artist and use your discoveries to fuel your writing, or you can let the image alone provoke your imagination.
2. Write as many poems and stories as you like. Send only your best works or final draft, not everything. Please copy and paste your submission into the body of the email, even if you include an attachment such as Word or PDF.
3. Have fun.
4. USE THIS EMAIL ONLY.
Send your work to email@example.com. Challenge submissions sent to the other inboxes will most likely be lost as those are read in chronological order of receipt, weeks or longer behind, and are not seen at all by guest editors. They will be discarded. Sorry.
5.Include HOPPER WRITING CHALLENGE in the subject line in all caps please.
6. Include your name and a brief bio. If you do not include your bio, it will not be included with your work, if accepted. Even if you have already written for The Ekphrastic Review or submitted other works and your bio is "on file" you must include it in your challenge submission. Do not send it after acceptance or later; it will not be added to your poem. Guest editors may not be familiar with your bio or have access to archives. We are sorry about these technicalities, but have found that following up, requesting, adding, and changing later takes too much time and is very confusing.
7. Late submissions will be discarded. Sorry.
8. Deadline is midnight, September 20, 2019.
9. Please do not send revisions, corrections, or changes to your poetry or your biography after the fact. If it's not ready yet, hang on to it until it is.
10. Selected submissions will be published together, with the prompt, one week after the deadline.
11. Rinse and repeat with upcoming ekphrastic writing challenges!
The Ekphrastic Review is thrilled to announce that we are resuming literary prize nominations. We are grateful for the amazing team that has come together to form the nomination committee and make this possible. Our prize nomination readers generously shared their time and expertise in a tight time window, in order to make this year's Best of the Net deadlines. We only had a few weeks after forming the committee to start with this important annual recognition of online literary excellence.
A big shout out and thank you to our committee members: Laura Cherry, Kari Ann Ebert, Carole Mertz, Alarie Tennille, Jordan Trethewey, with myself, Lorette C. Luzajic. (Click here to learn more about the committee.)
The Best of the Net is an annual series of nominations for literary recognition of online writing. To be eligible for this particular nomination, the poem, story, or prose had to be first published during the summer to summer window of 2018-2019, and had to appear online, not in print.
It was not an easy process to narrow down a year's worth of brilliant, inventive, creative, thoughtful, innovative writings into a mere eight nominations. But without further adieu, we announce the six poetry entries, two fiction, and two creative nonfiction or prose entries our team chose this year.
Congratulations to all of these writers, and thank you for sharing your talents in our pages.
Corollary, by Rajani Radhakrishnan (Feb. 24, 2019)
Caught, by Mike Baynham (May 5, 2019)
Metal Man, by Robert L. Dean (July 28, 2018)
After the Revolution, by .chisaraokwu. (July 27, 2018)
Three Tanka After Monet, by Gabriel Rosenstock (July 26, 2018)
Vanessa Bell is Sending Me Dreams, by Patricia Goodwin (January 29, 2019)
Paintbrush: a Surgical Tool, by Sophia Thimmes (December 29, 2018)
Lightning, by Ryan O'Connell (July 30, 2018)
The Lovelorn Trees of Cozumel, by Edwin Alanis-Garcia (Feb. 23, 2019)
Landscape, by Jenna Gallemore (October 30, 2018)
Birds That Sing at Night
The train moves sluggishly at dusk, pulling the tombstones and graveyard trees that hide secrets of skeletons inside. Poisonous yews planted in couples, arched cypresses, a chestnut trunk at the gate, and another one near the church’s door talk of fires, falls, road accidents, strokes, cancers, dementias, addictions, suicides, homicides, happy as can be and born to be unhappy, a finite life span and too young to die. I don’t feel like moving but the train drags me along, my thoughts drifting off to a place where trees are cut down randomly – a crime which deserves to be punished by the gallows. There’s a lonely blackbird on a wire, twitching its tail down, and another one, sitting across from me, a fidgety tawny-feathered robin poking holes through the tights with her blue fingers and brittle nails.
How do you kill a bird that feeds on your perpetually regenerating tears? – the girl catches me off-guard.
I’m looking out of the window, pretending I haven’t heard her. I wouldn’t know how to answer anyway.
It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird, though. Maybe you become one – she proceeds – letting out a cry that would break age-long silence.
She strikes me as a "no carbs, no sugars" kind of girl, pushing food around on the plate, and shaking her head – No, thank you. I’ve already eaten.
Have you wondered how birds sit on high-voltage power lines without getting electrocuted? – she stretches out her arms as if to embrace the air. Because they do stuff we can’t and go places we’re not allowed to.
How do you wish to be buried? – I ask, tapping the window with my finger.
She doesn’t seem to be surprised by the question. Not in a coffin. I’m claustrophobic. Besides, I don’t want gravestones and crosses.
If you want to be with birds, you’ll need to learn to sing at night too – I say reassuringly. I’d like to have a tree planted on top of me. I imagine hundreds of oak trees in my cemetery. Then try tearing up the whole forest – I mutter under my breath.
One day we’ll run out of land to bury people in.
I guess we’ll have to stack them on top of each other.
Her wide smile reveals braces. She’s even prettier than I thought.
NEXT STOP, GIESING. PLEASE EXIT TRAIN ON THE RIGHT. I feel a twinge in the pit of my stomach as the automated announcement is heard and the train screeches to a halt.
The girl finally picks up the ringing cell. Hey mom – she chirrups. I’m fine. I didn’t hear the phone. Bites her upper lip. I said I’m fine – she barks like a chained-up dog. Mom? Stands up. Nothing…er…I won’t be back for dinner. Don’t wait up for me, ok?
She looks me in the eye, shrugs, presses the button to open the door and exits left.
Birds are landing on power lines and rooftops, dozens of birds in the trees, facing upwards. The stars are falling with flame-coloured feathers from the evening sky.
Bojana Stojcic teaches, bitches, writes, bites and tries to breathe in between. Her poems and flash pieces are published or forthcoming in Rust + Moth, Anti-Heroin Chic, Barren Magazine, The Opiate, Burning House Press, The Blue Nib, Down in the Dirt, Mojave Heart Review, Dodging the Rain, Foxglove Journal, Spillwords, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Visual Verse, and elsewhere. She blogs regularly at Coffee and Confessions to Go.
Just yesterday, it seems,
the world breathed fire and gold
and we, arms interwoven,
one bold blue October morning,
at the changeling sugar maple
with our initials so impulsively emblazoned, no
for the birthing of snows,
the winter winds brittling flesh,
piercing the bones with
cold sharp words
on the order of all things,
for the shedding of skins,
coats of many colours shrugged off,
that one of us would be
ever on the outside
that this glass be
beating tears of a phantom heart
of December’s lips
to smother the flicker out,
to usher in the season of last, lost things.
Listen: love skitters
like a dead soul
into the darkling deep,
not even a sigh of spring
to keep it company.
Robert L. Dean, Jr.
Robert L. Dean, Jr, is the author of the poetry collection At the Lake with Heisenberg (Spartan Press, 2018). His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Flint Hills Review, I-70 Review, Chiron Review, The Ekphrastic Review, Shot Glass, Illya’s Honey, Red River Review, KYSO Flash, River City Poetry, Heartland! Poetry of Love, Resistance & Solidarity, and the Wichita Broadside Project. He was a quarter-finalist in the 2018 Nimrod Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry. He read at the Scissortail Creative Writing Festival in 2018 & 2019 and the Chikaskia Literary Festival in 2018. He is event coordinator for Epistrophy: An Afternoon of Poetry and Improvised Music held annually in Wichita, Kansas. He has been a professional musician and worked at The Dallas Morning News. He is a member of the Kansas Authors Club and lives in a 100-year-old stone building in Augusta, Kansas, along with a universe of several hundred books, two electric basses, and a couple dozen hats.
Death and the Woodcutter
Death’s lad, a full-blown nude, heels clad in cloud
dives with his little axe to free an honest woodsman
collapsed in low opinion of himself, weighed down
by woes and consternation, slow, clumsy mitts
drawn to his face: itself a cup of tears.
The Prince of Danes revered such pictures of
unhappiness: who else would fardels bear
to grunt and sweat under a weary life
but that the dread of something after death,
the undiscovered country from whose bourn
no traveller returns… puzzles the will
and makes us rather bear those ills we have
than fly to others that we know not of… how like
the Dane himself of Death to come with helmet
haloed, winged, a sailor from the heaven boat
once snagged in Clonmacnoise – the boy who dived
to save his ship and found its anchor fixed
in the altar stone and impossible to shift
without some earthbound intervention.
A man may labour til he knows his highest hopes
are vain and on that day will be consumed,
the object of his misery, beckoning his end
under a darkling sky and the enormity
of a question he may put and answer
of his own accord, the one choice of his own.
Between the heavens’ deluge, silver rings of night
the sterile rainbow ends in pots of gold or chalky light;
Death’s messenger rides in: sent off at first sight
when the woodcutter takes his bundle up
and resumes the journey home. Such, he says, is life.
Dominic James lives in SW England and has a collection, Pilgrim Station, available through SPM Publications. There’s a lively poetic community in the UK and he should get more involved, and he will, when he has found the right word. It’s around here somewhere.
The Modigliani Portrait
Sarah arrived at her grandmother’s apartment and looked with disgust at the clutter of boxes scattered throughout the living room. The movers had been expected yesterday, but had called to apologize and to assure the family that they would absolutely come today… or tomorrow. Sarah’s grandmother was unperturbed. If not yesterday, then today; if not today, then tomorrow. The assisted living facility had been paid and her room secured.
Sarah always enjoyed these visits to her grandmother. She looked forward to the brownies and hot chocolate, and she loved to stare at the large Modigliani portrait above the fireplace. The woman’s long neck, unnaturally bright red hair, and angular features were endlessly fascinating. “How long have you had that Modigliani giclée, Grandma?” she asked. Her grandmother beamed to hear the girl correctly pronounce both the name of the Italian painter and the French word that had come to refer to enhanced copies of original paintings.
“Oh, the Modigliani?” replied her grandmother. "I got it a long time ago--before you were born.”
“Will there be room for it in your new digs?”
“Oh, I’ve made arrangements,” replied her grandmother vaguely. “It won’t be a problem.”
“Did you ever get to see the original?” asked Sarah.
“Well, as a matter of fact I did,” came the response. "I was just a youngster--a lot younger than you.”
“I’d like to see the original sometime. Is it in a local museum?”
“Oh, it wasn’t in a museum,” replied her grandmother. “It was in a private collection.”
“Cool. How did you get to see it?”
The old woman maneuvered her walker to the sofa, pushed aside one or two of the smaller cartons, sat down heavily, and said, “It’s a long story. Do you have time to hear it?”
Sarah nodded enthusiastically. “Well, bring my coffee from the kitchen and I’ll tell you about it.”
Settling comfortably into the sofa, Sarah’s grandmother sipped at her coffee and began her narration. “I haven’t thought about that day for a long time,” she said dreamily. “When I was little, we lived in Boston. Did you know that?” Sarah shook her head. She had not yet reached the age when ancestral origins were of much interest.
“Well, we did,” continued her grandmother. “My father’s annual vacation was coming up, and he decided that we--that is my mother and I--needed to visit the nation’s capital. I’m not sure why. The last thing I wanted to do was to ride in our old jalopy for eight hours to see a bunch of old buildings, but my father insisted, so off we went.”
“I’ve been to Washington a lot,” interjected Sarah. “No big deal.”
“That’s easy for you to say,” sniffed her grandmother. “You live in Baltimore and you can get into DC in an hour and still be home for dinner, but for us it was a major undertaking.
“Anyway, when we had been on the road for a few hours, my father casually mentioned that we were going to stop in Baltimore. He wanted to visit an old friend.”
Sarah looked surprised. “I didn’t know our family had friends here back in the old days.”
Her grandmother gave her a disapproving look--old days indeed!--before continuing. “When my dad was in college, he and his friend Herbert Silver were roommates, but they went their separate ways after graduation. Daddy got a job in Boston, and Herbert settled in Baltimore. Made a lot of money in real estate, I think.
“They didn’t talk much by phone--yes, we had telephones in the old days!--but long distance calls were pretty expensive back then, and of course computers hadn’t been invented, so they stayed in touch by exchanging an occasional holiday card or birthday greeting, rarely a
letter. Anyway, when my father decided we were going to Washington, he wrote to Herbert, and we were all invited to dinner at his house.”
The old woman sat back and closed her eyes, lost in pleasurable reminiscence. Sarah thought she might have dozed off. It wouldn’t have been the first time, but no. She sat up and continued her story.
* * *
They had directions to the house and some local maps, but no GPS, of course. Brenda’s mother wasn’t much of a navigator, and they made a number of wrong turns, but finally pulled up to a long driveway leading to the biggest house Brenda had ever seen. There was a gate across the driveway and a buzzer for visitors to identify themselves. Her parents exchanged puzzled looks and checked the address. “This must be it. I guess we’d better use the buzzer,” her father said, and took the plunge.
Once Brenda’s father had identified himself, the gate swung back and the old car made its way up the driveway to a large semi-circular path in front of the mansion. The contrast between the ancient Ford with its rusted fenders and the magnificent structure before them couldn’t have been more striking. Seven-year-old Brenda was in awe; her mother gaped. Only her father seemed to take the opulence of their surroundings in stride.
The door was opened by a servant in livery. “Please follow me,” he said. “Mr. and Mrs. Silver are awaiting your arrival in the drawing room.” He led the way through a spacious hall to a large room where the Silvers stood smiling. The men embraced and exchanged hearty greetings. Then they stepped back and made the introductions. “Herbert,” began Brenda’s father, “I’d like you to meet my wife, Helen, and my daughter, Brenda.”
“Very glad we’re finally getting to meet George’s family,” said Herbert. “This is my wife, Sylvia.” The women shook hands, and Sylvia reached down to Brenda and smiled. “How do you do, Brenda. I’m sorry there’s no one here of your age, but I hope we can make you comfortable.”
The men and women paired off. George and Herbert chatted happily about their activities since college, the obvious difference in their financial positions having no apparent effect on the pleasure that each took in the other’s company. Helen, on the other hand, felt outclassed by the elegantly dressed woman who sat beside her, and found it difficult to make small talk while they waited for dinner to be announced.
Brenda, left to her own devices, wandered around the large room, gazing at the many paintings. She stopped and stared in wonder at a large, brightly coloured painting of a woman with a long neck, angular features, and brilliant red hair. She had never been to an art museum, and her exposure to paintings had been limited to her own daubings and the few posters and magazine clippings of animals and bucolic scenes that her mother had framed to fill the walls of their home.
This painting was a revelation. What was the artist trying to do? The woman’s chair seemed to be falling out of the picture, and no one Brenda had ever seen had hair like that, and yet there was something about the image that appealed to her.
After a few minutes she became aware of Sylvia’s presence. “Do you like this painting?” she asked. Brenda nodded. “The artist’s name is Modigliani,” said Sylvia, pronouncing the name slowly. Brenda repeated, “Modigliani.” “Yes,” said Sylvia. “That’s right. What do you like about it?”
Brenda thought about it for a moment, then shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s beautiful.”
“Yes, I think so too,” said Sylvia with a smile, and returned to her adult guests.
Dinner was announced, and the five of them trooped into the dining room, where a staff of servants held their chairs and served the meal. George and Herbert continued their reminiscences, while Sylvia did her best to make Helen feel comfortable. Brenda, having finished eating, saw no reason to remain at the table to listen to boring adult conversation. She got down from her chair, remembering to push it in, and began to walk away. Her mother started to remonstrate, but Sylvia interjected and said, “Oh, I don’t mind if she wanders around. She’ll be fine.”
The conversation began to wane. After what she judged to be a decent interval, Helen spoke up. “George, we really need to be getting on if we want to reach our hotel before dark.” Reluctantly, George sighed and stood up. “I guess you’re right.” The visitors proceeded to tell their hosts how much they had enjoyed the visit and the meal, and the hosts replied in kind. Then they all realized that Brenda had not returned to the dining room. “She can’t have gone far,” said Sylvia reassuringly. “I’ll bet I know where she is,” she added and moved off before anyone could respond.
As she had expected, Sylvia found Brenda in an adjoining room, staring at another portrait, smaller than the Modigliani in the drawing room but in the same style. When Sylvia approached, Brenda asked, “Is this by Modigliani?”
“Very good,” said Sylvia approvingly. “Yes, it is. Do you like it?” Brenda nodded without turning her head.
Sylvia said gently, “I’m sorry to tell you that your parents are ready to leave. Perhaps you can come again some time to look at the paintings. Would you like that?” Brenda nodded again, more emphatically, and allowed herself to be led away to rejoin her parents.
Final goodbyes were said, and Brenda and her parents were on their way. They would never again make the long trip from Boston to visit the magnificent house with the Modiglianis.
* * *
Sarah had listened to her grandmother’s account intently, brow furrowed, not wanting to interrupt. She was about to ask a question when the wall phone sounded, announcing a visitor. “Please see who that is, dear,” said Brenda.
Sarah picked up the receiver. “It’s somebody named Jameson. He says he’s got two men with him. From the art museum.”
“Oh, yes,” said Brenda. “Roger Jameson. I’ve been expecting him. Please buzz him in.”
While she was waiting for the visitors to make their way to the apartment, Sarah remembered what she was going to ask. “Grandma, how were you able to get a copy of a painting in a private collection? Did the Silvers lend it to some museum for an exhibition?”
Brenda smiled at her granddaughter and said, “Aren’t you the clever child! Let Mr. Jameson in and I’ll tell you.”
Sarah did as she was asked, and Roger Jameson entered, a dapper man, impeccably dressed, and accompanied by two workers in coveralls pulling a dolly that held a wooden crate and a great deal of packing material. Brenda greeted Jameson warmly. “Roger, delighted to see you again. Punctual as always. This is my granddaughter, Sarah.”
“And I’m happy to see you, too, Brenda,” he said as he bent to kiss her cheek. “And pleased to meet you, Sarah,” he said, shaking the girl’s hand. Then, turning back to Brenda, “Well, this is the big day. We’ve been waiting a long time.”
“I know you have,” she replied, as Sarah looked on in puzzlement. Brenda hastened to explain. “Roger is a museum officer. He and his colleagues are here to cart off the Modigliani,” she explained. “It’s time to let the rest of the world have a look at it.”
Sarah was utterly bewildered. “I don’t understand. What’s the museum going to do with a giclée…?” Her voice trailed off and her eyes widened. “It’s not a copy at all!” she exclaimed. “It’s real, isn’t it? Where did you get it? All this time you’ve had a genuine Modigliani! Why didn’t you tell me? Why are you giving it away?”
“Slow down,” said Brenda. “So many questions. All right, I’ll tell you. No reason not to… now. And yes, you’re quite right. It’s not a copy.” She settled herself more comfortably on the sofa, sipped her coffee, and turned her attention to Jameson’s men, each of whom had donned a pair of cotton gloves. They approached the painting and proceeded to lift it carefully from the wall above the fireplace. While one of the men held the painting in place, the other slipped a pre-cut section of thin foam wrapping material around it. With an efficiency born of long practice, they then inserted the wrapped painting into a pre-formed section of bubble wrap and gently lifted the entire package into the foam-lined crate. No one said a word while the wrapping operation was taking place. At its conclusion, Sarah could hear Jameson exhale audibly. She turned again to her grandmother and waited impatiently for her to continue.
“As I told you, my parents never took me to see the Silvers again. I went to school in Boston, married your grandfather, and started a family. We moved to Baltimore when your grandfather accepted a position at the hospital. By then it was more than 30 years since my parents and I had visited the Silvers, and it never occurred to me to try to look them up. After all, I was only seven when I had met them, and I doubted they’d even remember me, but I never forgot those Modigliani paintings.
“Years later, Sylvia Silver wrote to my parents and asked for my address and phone number. Sylvia did indeed remember me and wondered whether I would be willing to visit. Of course I called her immediately. A few days later, your grandpa and I drove to that grand old house at the end of the driveway. I could hardly wait to see the Modiglianis again and almost forgot to offer condolences when Sylvia told us that Herbert had recently passed away.”
Brenda broke off and turned to Jameson. “Roger, where are my manners? Would you and your men like some coffee? I just made a batch of brownies. Plenty for everyone. Sarah, they’re in the kitchen, and please bring some napkins.”
Jameson held up a hand. “Thanks, Brenda, but we really can’t stay. I’m sorry. Perhaps another time.” They all watched as the packers lifted the crate onto the dolly for transport to the museum. Jameson turned to Brenda. “We’ll let you know when we’re ready to show the painting to the trustees. I hope you’ll be able to join us,” he said with a broad smile. “Your name will be on the plaque along with the Silvers.”
“So this is the painting that the Silvers owned. How did you get it?” demanded Sarah impatiently.
Brenda picked up the story where she had left off. “After Herbert’s death,” she began, “Sylvia gave a lot of thought to what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. She was well into her seventies and had no close relatives. What she did have was a house that was far too big for her, rooms full of valuable paintings that she and Herbert had collected during their married life, and more money than she could possibly spend. She decided to sell the house, move to much smaller quarters, take a few of her favourite paintings with her and donate the rest to the art museum. The ones she took with her would go to the museum by bequest upon her death.
“After she settled into her new quarters, Sylvia asked me to visit. She had decided to modify her bequest. At her death, that wonderful Modigliani that the men are about to take away would come to me for the rest of my life, and it would go to the museum after my death.”
Brenda smiled as she recalled Sylvia’s words. “ ‘The museum is where it belongs,’ she said, ‘but they’ll get it eventually.’ The trustees were so pleased to be the recipients of this trove that they could hardly object to one little exception for one painting.”
Brenda took another sip of coffee and continued. “A few years later, Sylvia’s attorney called to tell me that she had passed away and the Modigliani was now mine, but there was to be no public mention of it. The museum insisted on that. We all felt that it was less likely to be stolen if everyone who saw it in my apartment thought it was just a copy. You, my dear, are the only person who has ever asked me about it. When I decided to give up this apartment and move to assisted living, I felt it was time to let the museum have the painting. As you can imagine, they were delighted.”
Having finished her story, Brenda sat back and finished her coffee. Sarah said nothing but considered what she had just heard as she watched the men maneuver the dolly toward the door. Jameson, with the satisfied smile of a man who has finally gotten what he has long wanted, thanked Brenda and, more formal now in his departure than his arrival, shook her hand rather than kissing her cheek, and turned to leave.
Sarah spoke up suddenly as a new thought occurred to her. “What about that small Modigliani in your bedroom, Grandma? What are you going to do with it?”
Jameson stopped in his tracks. His smile vanished. What was that about a small Modigliani? In all the years that he had been coming to check on the condition of the large painting above the fireplace, he had never asked to see the bedroom. Why should he? The only Modigliani identified in Sylvia Silver’s will was the painting that his men were now about to carry off. Uneasily, Jameson looked from grandmother to granddaughter, both of whom ignored him. Whatever was in the bedroom had to be a copy, he told himself. There was no other possible explanation.
“Oh, that thing…” began Brenda breezily with a dismissive gesture and a quick glance at Jameson. Then she smiled at her granddaughter, winked, and said firmly, “That one’s coming with me!”
Phillip Radoff is a retired lawyer who has self-published a collection of short stories (Butterflies and other stories) written over a period of about 25 years. The Modigliani Portrait was written in 2017 and is included in the recently published second edition of the book.
This evening, standing here before the dresser,
unpacking slips of paper, wallet, keys, a knife,
I note what’s common to me by its long acquaintance,
This bronze rhino, round, oddly filigreed, it serving
As a book-end, and I lift it, cradle its stout legs
And buttocks, horned snout - a replica of a
Much larger wine vessel from a departed dynasty -
Remembering its purchase in Shanghai, my father
Questioning the practicality of such a souvenir -
I packing it around on that sweet summer tour
With father, mother and my younger siblings -
After which I lugged it back to my Nanhai apartment -
My roommate and I giving it a place of honour
In our den, a glorious fixture, centerpiece.
Until, more wondrous, came the mistress of the house,
The life-mate, the companion of my days -
So that the rhino was retired to knick-knack shelves,
To bedside tables, and was left behind when we
Departed for the States - too heavy for our luggage -
What was greater making other items less.
Yet, biding time, sequestered in its closet, it
Was sought after again, our friends remarking
On its cumbersomeness as they carried it with them
On furlough to the States - unwrapped, and set
In its humility - the bridegroom’s friend once more
Attended to, now that the rites and joys of marriage
Were established, its conjugal lines secure -
And so the rhino, welcomed back, resides here
Where, sometimes, he’s used ignominiously
As a window prop or made the awkward piggy bank
Of our ecstatic boys. But he’s content, here given,
At turns, to usefulness and sentiment, and I return
Him to the place that’s his in my abundant life.
Jeremiah Johnson spent a decade in China, teaching everything from ESL to American Literature to Fiction, a cultural experience that has inspired much of his writing during his twenty-two year journey as a poet and essayist. He is currently living in Cumming, Georgia with his wife and two sons and is teaching first-year composition at the University of North Georgia.
The Ekphrastic Review
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