Tired of Bonaparte with a face
plumped with flattery,
tired of Queen Victoria’s stony stare,
she craved a subtle narrative.
The artist arrives with a canvas, an easel,
a palette, brushes, and a cloak
caked with dry paint, fabric
of fixed comet tails, to watch
the mother dust, cook, feed, and sew
or do whatever mothers do.
The girl twirls around her, asking about paint
and could she hold the brushes, mix the colours?
Other children run in and out,
while the mother tends to one,
then to the house, then to the next child
with a hummingbird’s quick precision.
The artist thinks she will paint her
with a bird’s slim head,
It’s easy to mistake this for devotion:
The child anchors
her weight to her mother’s thighs.
The mother scrubs dirt from her daughter’s feet.
Calm although her dress bruises
with watermarks, she cleans the child’s limbs
slowly as if polishing silver.
Now imagine a cool evening
draft, the fire gone out.
The painter sees rivers:
wallpaper blurs with rivers,
rivers course down the mother’s
dress into the basin.
She hears rivers: the trickle
of water from the sponge,
the girl’s light giggle.
The mother names
every tendon and muscle, notes
and dimple under
her breath as she did
the day her daughter was born.
Propelled not by gravity,
she begged the baby to leave
her body and not break it. Hours later,
the baby cried,
and climbed to meet her mother’s scent.
The river runs into a garden: rose
in the mother’s dress,
roses on the wall,
rose in the rug, rose in the pitcher,
rose in the hue of their skin,
rose in the rim of the basin.
A vacancy, her flaccid torso.
After the midwives took
the baby to be weighed and measured,
the mother plunged her hands
in water, reclaimed
her body with a soft sponge.
The painter finds the mother’s eyes.
They dart from the child’s body
to the rug
to the wall
to the fireplace
to her feet
to the hearth,
to the children,
then flicker in the basin
water like stones
on the bottom of a lake.
The mother sees stillness.
She wants the water to cover her,
to course over her body
and hold her. She dreams
of falling into the painting.
She finds her reflection
swimming in the basin, a dim
minnow in a shallow pond.
The artist mixes whites and browns. She paints
the basin over and over.
Her brush siphons colour from air. More blue,
some grey, some pink, and rose.
Bristles splinter and fall. She evokes eyes stirring
below the surface: The mother’s eyes
rise then disappear.
The mother strokes her daughter’s foot,
steals a glimpse
of naked tree branches
offering prayers to a gunmetal sky.
She hears the sudden hiss
of water trembling over a pot.
Wood-shock of the door closing.
Catherine Prescott is the author of the chapbook The Living Ruin (Finishing Line Press, 2012). Her poems have recently appeared in Bellevue Literary Review, Cumberland River Review, Linebreak, MiPOesias, Poetry East, Rattle, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in poetry from NYU. Catherine lives with her husband and three school-age children in Miami Beach, Florida, where she teaches poetry workshops, runs a copyediting business, and grows school gardens. www.catherineprescott.net
The Ekphrastic Review
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