With Pearls in My Hair
One of the windows must be open; I feel a small breeze, almost a draft. It is practically impossible to get rid of the damp; the dark prints of mildew show everywhere. I find it is easier to remain motionless when I pay attention to the small things – trying to make sense of the faint household sounds from below, the indistinct voices, the, at times, hurried steps, and that final-sounding thud of the front door. At other times, I try to distinguish between the different kinds of bells tolling from the many church towers surrounding us. Right now, there is the unmistakable sound of water being sloshed on the cobblestones below; I keep listening, even while I watch the shimmering rectangle of light gaining purchase on the room.
Sitting still like this for any length of time, while Rembrandt works in virtual silence, felt strange at first. I remember how uncomfortable I used to be under his gaze. I know his work, and know how it speaks of an eye that sees more than most. Just take his latest portraits, or his many self-portraits! Fine details are what he loves, small values in lines, the offset of shadow and light, and their dissolving into half tones... while I do not understand most of what he explains to me, I do know that he catches the essence of a person better than most, and often, better than one would like.
The very first time he drew me could hardly have been called a sitting. It was on the third day after our betrothal, we were out in the country visiting my sister, when he called out to me, “Just stay like that, Saskia!” while he opened his sketchbook and started drawing. Watching him draw I was amused, and later on when he gave me the finished drawing, enchanted.
This incident has remained one of my favourite memories of that outing. In the finished sketch I am wearing my much-loved, generously brimmed straw hat and I am holding an already wilting flower that I could not help picking while we ambled in the garden. Looking at the drawing now, I am amazed at the innocence and vulnerability of my expression.
Today, Rembrandt asked me to arrange my hair using my long string of pearls; he suggested I wind it through my swept up hair. I had to rearrange my hair several times before he was satisfied and just the right number of stray curls framed my face. I’m also wearing my double strand of pearls and the pearl earrings that go with it. The dress he chose for me is the festive brown one with the ruched and bound sleeves.
No, I find I do not mind sitting still like this – it frees my mind to keep my gaze locked on a certain point, and it allows me to drift to a place of listening and sensing, rather than acting. It feels peaceful and timeless and my mind drifts to thoughts I hold dear. Lately, I have wondered whether I might not be with child. Then I ask myself, would I know it if I were? The deep contentment that I feel, this sense of inner calm, this feeling of waiting for something as yet unknown, could that be part of it?
We have not been married for very long. Being the wife half of “husband and wife” still feels strange to me. I have come to realize that in many ways my life so far has left me woefully unprepared for my role as a wife. I was only seven when my mother died and twelve when my father died. Perhaps I will not know how to make a good life for us, or how to be a good mother.
I know my friends would think it tiresome to sit like that, and it is hard not to drift off to somewhere else, but I know Rembrandt does not mind where my mind goes as long as I do not move a muscle. The air coming in through the open window smells more and more like rotting fish and given the brackish water in the gracht down below this is hardly surprising. The odour sparks memories of Friesland where I grew up. How much cleaner the air had seemed to me at the North Sea and how much more powerful the force of the wind. I have a vivid picture of myself running along the damp beach at low tide daring the waves to touch me; and I remember coming home with the damp hem of my skirts clinging to my bare legs, leaving anklets of salt on my calves.
Over there, at the other end of the room, at the very edge of my focus, I can barely make out Rembrandt’s latest self-portrait. It’s the one with the soft cap which, by the way, I can see he has dropped carelessly on the chair in the corner just below my red velvet hat hanging on the wall. That portrait shows a more private side of Rembrandt, the softness and ardour that are his as well, but that are often missing from his other self portraits. Perhaps I’m being fanciful, but I think that in some small way I have contributed to that expression, that new openness. I will suggest to him that we keep that portrait solely for ourselves, and for our children, who will, God willing, one day fill our lives.
It is a fulsome quiet that fills the room, the only sound comes from the movement of the burin scraping the copper plate. Rembrandt explained to me once that the small curls of copper that are thrown up by the tool grooving the plate, will, once inked, give the image its soft lines and suggest shadows and fluidity. It seems to me an inexact way of working, as if part of the effect was left to chance, was unpredictable and unstable.
The bells have started ringing again. I fancy I can make out the massive bell of the Westerkerk. There are so many churches and carillons all over Amsterdam, especially in this part of town, and so many of them start and finish just slightly out of step with one another. Yet each has its own distinctive tone, its own melodic voice of hymn and psalm that strive and merge only to be eventually drowned out by the general discord of everyday sounds, by the very life teeming around it.
Here in the studio, time in its very timelessness is passing as well.
The next year, 1635, was going to be one of the worst plague years in living memory. One in five people in Amsterdam was about to die.
Saskia was to bear Rembrandt four children, three of whom would die in infancy, one at the age of twenty-six. Saskia herself died at age thirty from tuberculosis. Rembrandt would live on until 1669.
Barbara Ponomareff has been a child psychotherapist by profession. Since her retirement she has been able to pursue her life-long interest in literature, psychology and art. She has published a novella on the painter J.S. Chardin, and her short stories and poems have appeared in various literary magazines and anthologies.
With apparent forethought
and generous attention to margins
and spines, some resourceful bookbinder
has pasted The Night Watch into place.
But it’s hard to say
pasted without underestimating
a toothpick’s precise caulking,
or tailors who stitch invisible hems
or bricklayers who forgive the bricks
for their lazy adhesion and easy stacking.
Whatever mistake the printer admits to,
the cover-up is as flawless
as the captain’s fingernails blended
into the lattice of his outstretched hand.
Silent, satin glue holds the replica
as honestly as the watchman holds
his lance, as secretly as the golden girl
hangs her chicken by its claws.
Amy Nawrocki is the author of five collections of poetry, including Four Blue Eggs and Reconnaissance. Her most recent work is The Comet's Tail: A Memoir of No Memory published by Little Bound Books. She teaches English at the University of Bridgeport and lives in Hamden, Connecticut. Visit her at http://amynawrocki.org.
And there is no object so soft but it makes a hub for the wheel'd universe
Let us stand side by side in our nighttime simplicities,
in our humble shapes, our several soft colours.
Let the trees reach and the stars be clear
and the moon bend gently above us.
Let even our irritable antennae be for once lit and innocent,
as if made by a young child with large eyes and wide mind,
while a confident cat walks the gray and subtle surface of things,
Shirley Glubka is a retired psychotherapist, the author of three poetry collections, a mixed genre collection, and two novels. The Bright Logic of Wilma Schuh (novel, Blade of Grass Press, 2017) is her latest. Shirley lives in Prospect, Maine with her spouse, Virginia Holmes. Website: http://shirleyglubka.weebly.com/ Online poetry at The Ekphrastic Review here; at 2River View here; at The Ghazal Page here; and at Unlost Journal here.
Wandering galleries filled with Van Gogh,
Picasso, Matisse, I find a dim room,
its curved wall lit with a stretch of saturated blue,
water lilies, reflection of sky and pink-tinged clouds.
A golden-haired woman, face soft with wonder,
studies curator’s notes, turns toward the artist’s pond.
Drawn by certain joy, I approach--
Have you been to Paris, Musée de l’Orangerie?
It has canvases like this one, I say,
Monet’s gift to the country he loved.
With a shake of her head, she speaks, reveals
distance traveled to walk along this shore.
She smiles, enters Giverny,
gifts this silhouette of a sonnet to me.
Diana Dinverno was a finalist for the New Rivers Press 2015 Short Story Prize. Her work appears in The MacGuffin, Peacock Journal, Peninsula Poets, and American Fiction, Volume 15: The Best Unpublished Stories by New and Emerging Writers. More at: dianadinverno.com.
Photograph Where I am Permed
And now I am permed, and it is not flattering. My smile is only a half-smile. Someone (my mother didn’t drive) took me to Dallie’s where the smell of the permanent solution was awful. I’m about eight, and holding my Easter basket. My dress is lovely with a wide, frilly collar. Mom dressed me as she dressed herself—inexpensively, but with style. I’m next to my grandmother whose name is Hazel, and she’d holding my half-sister, Sherry. Granny is in a sleeveless dress with buttons all the way down the front. She looks as if the sun is in her eyes, and isn’t smiling. I could read a lot into that for we are in Landrum, S.C. where my jealous step-grandmother lives. She was never nice to us.
My stepfather’s back is to the camera, and he’s looking down as if searching for something. His brother Elford is doing the same. Elford is the favorite son, and nothing my stepfather did ever changed that. They are both in their army uniforms. Grandpa Pruitt is nearby, but you only can only see a bit of him. He was meaner than my step-grandmother, maybe because of her, or his drinking. We could have all been to church. I loved Easter and couldn’t wait to tear off the cellophane of my basket, and eat the candy.
The Pruitt’s called my mother May-ree, taking the loveliness right out of her name. There was little for me to do there except pick muscadines and gather eggs from the hens, shooing away the mean rooster. During rain, I would sting buttons on thread. The Singer machine sat near the kitchen window, but I didn’t know how to sew. I got bored once, and cut down a tree to play Christmas. My step-grandparents didn’t own the land, and my mother punished me.
Out back there was a pile of Tub Rose snuff cans since Granny Pruitt dipped snuff. I could smell her breath, and see how brown her teeth were. Yet, smoking was considered a sin: my mother was sinning. Granny P could make good fried pies but seemed to resent you eating them. I longed to return to Radford where my Grandmother and Poppie lived. My granny would comfort me, and shoo away night fears, and let me lie in her bed after Poppie had gone to work. We’d make up stories, pretending to travel to far-off places. Never mind we could actually go only to where gas money took us, often to West Virginia to visit family. I’d get sick riding around those curves with the big drop-offs.
For now, I was stuck in Landrum trying to comb out the curls. My hair looked like a head of cabbage. Vanity would come easy for me with such competition from my mother’s beauty. Sherry was the one who looked more like her, and she too had a lovely name. Gail was like a stone you couldn’t budge.
Each day seemed forever, and the candy would get eaten, and the dyed eggs begin to smell. I knew we’d soon leave, and couldn’t wait to get in the car, and drive down that dirt road. Road I ran on breathlessly as if something were chasing me and closing in.
Gail Peck is the author of eight books of poetry. Her first full-length, Drop Zone, won the Texas Review Breakthrough Contest; The Braided Light won the Leana Shull Contest for 2015. Other collections are Thirst, Counting the Lost, From Terezin, Foreshadow, and New River which won the Harperprints Award. Poems and essays have appeared in Southern Review, Nimrod, Greensboro Review, Brevity, Connotation Press, Comstock, Stone Voices, and elsewhere. Her poems have been nominated for a Pushcart, and her essay “Child Waiting” was cited as a notable for Best American Essays, 2013.
The Card Players
A ledger kept in a drawer too long, it all begins to unravel between Pierre and Claude
with discreet card games, unpaid promises, deals, and unsettled scores.
Winter hangs over the poker table as Claude, a big man with a bigger debt
arrives dressed in a tan overcoat and new black top hat,
sits down on a wooden chair, back to the wall.
Across the table, Paul and Charles lean in to their cards.
When Paul ups the ante, Claude’s grin seems almost jovial.
Indeed, his cheeks display a healthy shade of blush as he contemplates his cards,
shuffles slightly in his chair, then arranges them by suit.
But though he holds his cards steady, Claude’s hands feel cold and damp.
Paul, on Claude’s right, wears an ordinary brown coat and hat.
A former friend of Claude’s perhaps; now Claude owes him money.
Like a frayed wire ready to short, Paul displays brusque ways.
A lively man, Paul, though today, his sober grin might mislead you.
Charles plays on Claude’s left, aloof.
Dressed in an over-sized blue coat, and a possible acquaintance of Paul,
Charles lays his pipe down on the card table, focuses on his hand.
Drawn in by high stakes, the three forget Pierre until they hear him shuffle.
Accustomed to his own way, Pierre, a shrewd man with a pointy chin,
wears an orange scarf, black coat, and brown hat.
A white pipe pursed between the lips of his poker face, and arms folded,
Pierre seems removed though he looks on, as he calculates the odds.
To witness the luck of the draw, Pierre waits transfixed against the cold, grey wall,
perched over Claude’s hunched shoulders, as the four count on the night to play itself out.
Pierre plants himself against Claude’s wishes, in the perfect spot to peer
at Claude’s hand, as they hedge their bets.
Pierre wants his money, he tastes it, as he watches Claude’s cards.
If Claude takes all, Pierre wins the jackpot.
Though silent, through his presence in the room, Pierre asserts control.
Pierre designs to take Claude’s life, should he lose again tonight.
As Claude plays his last game, Cezanne enters the room, unobserved.
Since he shows up too late to draw cards, Cezanne paints the scene instead.
Michele Harvey’s poems have appeared in several literary publications including: Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Progenitor, Copper Nickel and The Litchfield Review. Her sonnet, “Dinosaur Ridge,” is the focal point for a permanent art in public places display at the Jefferson County Government Center railway station in Golden, Colorado. Michele Harvey is the author of Poetry for Living an Inspired Life.
Harden transfixed, crowd
agape, fingers pointing.
Sometimes greatness falls
upon us. We bear
its weight, bruise even,
extricating ourselves, even
as we try not to miss
the moment. O rise! O pitch
the air-filled world up
and through, up
the tally, make it / us / all
meaningful! (Some pay
no attention, wouldn’t
trouble themselves to slide
a finger into the bloody
rent. We won’t
concern ourselves with such
as these, we who believe.)
This poem was inspired by a viral sports photo by Carlos Gonzalez, which was then compared to Raphael's artwork above, and other ancient paintings. Click here to see the photo and the story.
Devon Balwit writes in Portland, OR. She has five chapbooks out or forthcoming: How the Blessed Travel (Maverick Duck Press); Forms Most Marvelous (dancing girl press); In Front of the Elements(Grey Borders Books), Where You Were Going Never Was (Grey Borders Books); and The Bow Must Bear the Brunt (Red Flag Poetry). More of her individual poems can be found here as well as in The Cincinnati Review, The Stillwater Review, Red Earth Review, The Inflectionist; Glass: A Journal of Poetry; Noble Gas Quarterly; Muse A/Journal, and more.
Women Picking Olives, 1889
The oil that is extracted here from the most beautiful olives
in the world replaces butter. I had great misgivings
about this substitution. But I have tasted it in sauces
and, truthfully, there is nothing better.
Jean Racine, “Lettres d’Uzès, 1661”
And there’s nothing better than old friends; no substitutes will do.
These women in their plain coloured dresses remind me of what I’ve lost,
the friends who are not here. There’s nothing rational about this,
why a woman on a ladder, another reaching into the trees, a third
with a pannier would speak to me of loss, but there are spaces
between the branches where the dove-coloured sky bleeds through,
and the path through the orchard runs like a river, liquid brush strokes
of clay, the field ochre on both sides. The dead no longer need to feed
the body, decide between oil and butter for their bread. They can slip
between the next world and ours if they want to, on the breath of the wind.
There’s a ladder in this painting, but it doesn’t reach to heaven. Instead,
it’s the divide, the uncrossable bridge, the message still on the answering
machine. Above the orchard, the sky is full of ashes of roses: parentheses,
ellipses, things we hold onto, even as they slip away.
This poem was first published in Barbara Crooker's book, Les Fauves (C&R Press, 2017).
Barbara Crooker is the author of eight books of poetry; Les Fauves (C&R Press, 2017) is the most recent. Her work has appeared in many anthologies, including The Poetry of Presence and Nasty Women: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse, and she has received a number of awards, including the WB Yeats Society of New York Award, the Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award, and three Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships. Her website is www.barbaracrooker.com
Nude Descending a Staircase
Moonstoned in the depths of the Ambien hours,
she flows—bedroom to kitchen to bath—naked,
gravity-lover downstairs dancing,
unembarrassed as whitewater in a kayaker's dream.
Sleek and dangerous, she hypnotizes: my Salome,
my mistress of hydrodynamics and dance.
Swamped in veils, in waves and brush strokes,
oh what can I do but founder: twee playboat
capsized in her aftermath, shouting out, not waving,
O shapeshifter, sharpshooting mad under moon,
descend untouched, untouchable, slip aqueous
through my luckless grasp—liquidshimmery, lickety-
split—reflections tongueing lovers lost in new ideas
of what is face, what is form where current is king.
No mudpuddle Narcissus, I only have eyes
for the rushing by, the burning too quick
for retina to register, for beauty in fleetest form
setting the millworks afire,
out beyond the rainglossed highway,
where muscle cars whoosh puddles into oilslicked
masterpieces, streetlit abstract expressions:
four hundred horses of paintbrush, one hundred
thousand Duchamps dancing on the head of a pin.
Ah, the hunger in your eyes, the shiny fish
writhing under your skin!
Shiver me your undulation, modulation,
your ballet, your hipsway, your come-thee-hither
from upstairs down.
For you I breathe deep, dive deep
into your sizzle and froth, scream you a song
you carry only to lose to a bigger river.
Another voice in the drowned-boy chorus,
another lullabye gone home to sleep in the sea.
Brent Terry holds an MFA from Bennington College. He is the author of three collections of
poetry: the chapbook yesnomaybe, (Main Street Rag, 2002) the full-length Wicked, Excellently
(Custom Words, 2007) and Troubadour Logic (Main Street Rag, forthcoming 2018). His stories,
essays, reviews and poems have appeared in many journals. He is working on new poems, a
collection of essays and a novel. Terry lives in Willimantic, CT, where he scandalizes the local
deer population with the brazen skimpiness of his running attire. He teaches at Eastern
Connecticut State University, but yearns to rescue a border collie and return to his ancestral
homeland of the Rocky Mountain West.
The light is Pisco brandy
aged in an oak barrel
on the backstreets of Bellavista.
A flute of champagne
fizzes on a mosaic tile.
She perches on a Fornasetti
stool in the Summer Bar,
her long legs crossed
waiting for hora del coctel.
Her hair is unruly red,
curled like the paths
that lead to secret portholes,
A gift – lapis lazuli necklace
nestles against her breasts.
Her tremulous face
eyebrows arched, lips pursed
as if ready to sing a Sonato
to the gilded mountains,
while he remains silent
like an hidalgo on a coat of arms.
Poet's note: La Chascona means wild-haired woman in Spanish. It is also the name of the house Pablo Neruda built for his lover Matilde Urrutia.
Jane Salmons is a teacher living and working in Stourbridge in England. She is currently studying an MA in Creative Writing and has had poems published in various online magazines including ‘Ink, Sweat and Tears’ and ‘Algebra of Owls’. Aside from writing poetry, in her precious free time she enjoys photography and creating handmade photomontage collage.
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