Almost Surrendered: On Being and Nothingness
The gallery was empty, the artist unknown to us.
Strangers to her work, we walked in quietly,
speaking in whispers about the way she painted
a rich purple aubergine or the clear, shimmering water
in blown-glass bottles. Illusion so real it was perfect.
Her paintings seemed direct but insinuated that
something might be hidden just beyond our view.
From fruits and windows, vegetables and doorways,
suddenly there was a room full of large paintings of figures,
mostly nudes with evocative names like “Pieta” or
“Architecture of the Perfect Man.”
We stopped in front of one called “The Marriage.”
It showed two figures lost in thought, in separate worlds.
It reminded me of what marriage is like for some after
so many years together. Still, silence doesn’t always speak
of distance but of an understanding of hearts.
And there, on the left wall, was “Almost Surrendered.”
A pale naked woman with arms by her side, palms stretched up
in prayer or supplication. She was translucent, existing half here,
half there. Behind her was a closed window. She wore a gold chain.
Was she a memory, a body giving way to death or being reborn?
Or was this ghostly surrender all illusion, a message
to women who have given too much of themselves?
A woman who had lost herself in trying to be everything.
Could she be a dream?
You moved on to the next picture and then the next,
but I stood there staring at this vanishing woman and
wondered who it was who really had surrendered.
Was she any woman?
Could she be me?
You reappeared, and together we moved on.
This time round, I found myself thinking about windows
in pictures, of what lay beyond the glass the artist
drew, surrendering myself to what she didn’t show,
what she concealed in her mind like a stage curtain pulled back
just enough to hint that maybe others stood on the other
side, looking back at us from a completely different angle.
Would they study us closely, marveling at our verisimilitude?
the lovely glazes of colour so skillfully applied, built up so
carefully to a level of opacity that suggested real inner depth?
Would they compare us to the other figures in the gallery
and wonder why we were not painted as a man and a woman
fading from view, surrendering to a love spoken in silence?
Mary Kendall is a poet and a retired teacher who lives with her husband and dog in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Her chapbook, Erasing the Doubt, was published in 2015 by Finishing Line Press, and she is the co-author of A Giving Garden (© 2007), a children’s book based on one of her poems. Mary Kendall has a weekly poetry practice blog: A Poet in Time: http://apoetintime.com. Mary loves to travel, garden, meditate and read.
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