Jemmy Paints My Portrait
(monologue spoken by Anna McNeil Whistler)
I had other things to do. It’s not as if my life was empty. Meeting and managing and persuading patrons of Jemmy’s genius was my full time job. I’m not complaining. He is my life, all I have left after influenza took his father and his two brothers.
When Jemmy settled in London he needed me to manage his career. I enjoyed it. Enjoyed too his wild and sometimes disreputable friends, flamboyant, brilliant, dressed in their velvet waistcoats and yellow kid gloves. Jemmy followed their fashion and, oh, my, he was beautiful. He had the wild curly hair from the McNeil side of the family. Except for his moustache he looked like a cherub in a rococo painting.
He had an Idea with a capital I. Get rid of all the soft colours and billowy blue skies, the delicate young female flesh–it wasn’t women he was attracted to, after all–forget about the melon breasts and delicate pink nipples. He would paint a symphony of gray and black. No, I didn’t really have time to pose for him. But he was my darling Jemmy so I stood, straight and still and serious in that awful black dress and lace bonnet. It certainly wasn’t my most becoming gown, I only kept it for wakes and funerals. But he wanted black.
My feet hurt, my back hurt, I was a martyr for his art. I couldn’t stop the sighs, even a groan now and then, just to let him know what a burden and imposition it was to pose like a corpse in rigor mortise standing instead of lying in the comfort of a pillowed casket. Finally he went into the dining room and came back with a straight-backed chair. “All right, you can sit and be comfortable if you’ll stop the dramatics,” he said.
“A footstool would be a help,” I said.
“Oh, a footstool, too? I’ll get one. But no pillows. This is serious painting.”
“I know,” I said, “Gray and deep shadowless black. And white–my lace bonnet.”
So I sat and he painted. I turned my head away. Nothing is more boring than watching a painter dab and squint and chew his lips and wrinkle his brow, pick his nose. I closed my eyes to settle into my own thoughts, the gray and white and black of the Russian winter when I buried his father and his brothers and took this one beloved child back to Lowell, Massachusetts to make a life for us. My life a symphony in gray and black … and Jemmy’s sparkling blue eyes and his sweet smile and kiss on the forehead when he said, “Thank you, Mother. This painting will make us both famous.”
“God forbid,” I said. “I don’t want the world thinking that’s what I looked like.”
June Calender retired to Cape Cod after a 25+ year career in NYC as an off-off-Broadway playwright. Now she writes poetry, fiction, essays, and creative nonfiction. She teaches writing skills at the Academy for Lifelong Learning at Cape Cod Community College and edits their annual anthology.
Dreaming on Paper
Using a reed pen on large sheets of paper,
he translated sky, rocks, fields into dots,
jabs, scratches. They try to catch the wind
in olive branches, the gnarled trunks, the way
the light lay down. You can sense colour,
though it isn’t there: brown earth, yellow grain,
blue sky. In thousands of letters, drawings, diaries,
Van Gogh laboured with paper and ink.
He made peace with his own awkwardness, using
reeds from the Midi fields sharpened into pens.
Each could only hold a little bit of ink at a time,
so he devised his own notation, a kind of Morse code,
which he varied again and again. As he reinvented drawing,
he found himself. By the time he was in the asylum at St. Rémy,
he was drawing everything: nesting curls for the flickering flames
of the cypresses, a splash of black in a sunny landscape;
the farmyards of Auvers; clouds that billowed in staccato lines.
Right before he shot himself, he told Theo, I still love art
and life very much. Finally, he’d found how to make
the hardest thing he had ever tried look easy. And then,
the wheat field, with crows.
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
Honey, there is no honey. The sun sucked it
into a cloud. See that cataract
on our horizon, the scratch on the lens
I can't afford to replace?
An arm and a leg. An arm and a leg
and all my long, shining hair
for a new glass eye to see you through.
I could watch you snake fingers
through the sockets of a skull
all morning. Drives me wild
as a stripped stage and you
some new-wave Lancelot
waving your hot bone blade.
Who you gonna stab with that thing?
Is it me? Can it be me? Can it be
you, the one reclining
out of character, watching yourself undress?
I don't know who we're performing for
out here. We're always blowing ourselves
away with our personas. Our tornados trace
spirals in dust. I could do this forever.
The desert is a circle. The sound of opening.
The desert is a gong clanging your name
so what'll it be? One syllable
fast as a flash exposure
of peyote flowers and teeth?
A good fuck on the floor
where the stone is dry and cool?
Time shakes, a rattlesnake
on the doormat. Welcome,
baby, welcome home.
Clare Welsh is a writer, photographer, and illustrator based in New Orleans. Here words and images have appeared in McSweeney’s, Southern Glossary, Offbeat Magazine, and other places in print and online. Her Chapbook Chimeras is available through Finishing Line Press. Currently, she is currently working on a full-length poetry book about wild dogs. To keep up with her work, follow her Instagram @clarewelsh.
Mark Chain has lived most of his adult life in Northern New England and Europe. A former Community Organizer, Teacher, and Psychotherapist, he's given readings and guest lectures, made radio programs, and driven taxi in both the US and Germany, where he lived for 16 years. He has had a number of his writings and translations published or broadcast, was once simultaneous translator of a live presentation by Richard Baker-Roshi, Zen-Master, and once teaching assistant to Allen Ginsberg and Ted Berrigan. In 2016 he retired from cutting and splitting his firewood by hand, sold his log cabin, and moved into a nearby village -- though he still has his chain saw and axe.
Like a seaweed pod
bulbous, swollen, glistening –
the mother’s burnished head tenses
looking out to sea. She is heavy,
hard, at a glance, supple as a sea lion
flopping across the sand
like one big muscle, to bask
in the sun; her pup is close by.
The reclining woman is unafraid,
unpretentious, big, impossible
to move in the gravity of land,
solid but sleek in the briny
deep. The baby is inert
with intertidal weight. She
trusts the mother’s unconstructed
bulk, resting in the embryonic
hollow of her arm –
at high tide they will rise
and lumber over rocks
to heft and slide
polished bodies back again
into their aquatic origins.
Mary Torregrossa, originally from Rhode Island, lives in Southern California where she teaches ESL to adults from around the world. Her poems appear in the Los Angeles anthologies, Voices From Leimert Park Redux and Wide Awake: Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond, Dime Show Review, Poets Responding to the News and Remembered Arts Journal. A chapbook, My Zocalo Heart is published by FinishingLine Press, 2018.
Before the Mist
In Battersea Reach from Lindsey Houses,
Whistler takes us to the edge of the world
where the land gives out and the sea
goes on and on right into the sky.
Here, along this margin, the air
manifests itself as mist,
as the planet itself exhaling
its hot breath over the cold ocean,
as Emerson’s oversoul cloaking all,
colour, shape, and light. Whistler
lets us stand and look out past seeing,
past the almost hidden sailboats,
past the white railing, past the three women
in their long dresses and full skirts,
each solid, each definite—grey and blue
and mottled green and yellow--
each anchored on this side of eternity.
Two turn at something the third has said
beneath her parasol, divert
their eyes to her pale round face,
to her words which mingle
with the mist. Far to their left,
maybe fifteen feet down the rail,
alone, one more woman floats,
the white bars showing through her.
Less visible than the distant
sailboats, she has already
begun to transcend herself,
to become more aeriform
than human, to loose herself
to the infinite expanse
of sea and sky and longing,
to escape our earthly frame.
Cecil Morris retired after 37 years of teaching high school English in California, where he wrote numerous memos, lesson plans, and the occasional poem. He has had a few poems published, mostly in English teacher magazines (English Journal and California English) and small literary magazines (Poem and Hiram Review).
Portrait of (Monna) Lisa Gherardini, 1503-1506
Before it was stolen then found
four hundred content years of anonymity.
Louvre security couldn’t control lawless camera flashes.
So now the portrait’s hung behind light-shielding Plexiglas.
We pose next to it (click) to prove our visit.
Take two minutes to get the right shot (click).
We won’t recall the sfumato (click), the hands
one atop the other, or the road that leads away.
We skip home with our prized shots, pictures
of a painting, but no memory of the painting.
Janée J. Baugher
Baugher is the author of two ekphrastic poetry collections, The Body’s Physics (Tebot Bach, 2013) and Coördinates of Yes (Ahadada Books, 2010). Her nonfiction, fiction, and poetry have been published in The Writer’s Chronicle, Boulevard, NANO Fiction, Nimrod, and The Southern Review, among other places. Her essay “Art to Art: Ekphrastic Poetry” can be found at https://boulevardmagazine.org/jjbaugher/
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Picasso Dreams of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza:
In the Shadow of Windmills
on the Plains of La Mancha,
Campo de Montiel, Spain,
March 15, 1565
DREAM #1: Don Quixote, 57, Knight Errant de la Mancha
I know better than believe these windmills to be giants, yet what right man would not choose a world of maidens, beautiful and fair, high romance, a king’s ransom, and a dragon’s lair when weighed against the daily life we live? So I set forth on a long-tooth nag and this old fool by my side to roam abroad the country wide, to court adventure and quell the searing fear of death inside us all, and poor poor Panza, he cannot see because he has no questful eyes, not for any dreams beyond his monstrous belly—yet I know these things exist, the same as I know God does not—still there I am weekly at mass, thumbing my rosary on bended knee, a devout, praying at each station of the cross, all because I desire the approval of Father, who, once Mother had passed, locked the doors and read himself away to death—and so too have I consumed a library full of fantasy, though I will not be my father, will not pine loveless and a loon in some dusty hidden room—I know that before me, squat and bright in lye-washed white, is no giant at all, but I will it so and so it is—and how can a man who knows he is mad be truly mad after all, especially one who knows his life draws near to close and wants only one more moment of adventure’s good grace—so, Hie, vale anon! I spur dear rack of bones Rocinante onward and into the giant’s flailing arms, aware that his time too is at hand and shall too like Father pass from this world:
I smash my wooden lance against his jaw but, Grim Reaper-like, he grabs my steed and self and sends us over—the world whirls by like a Bedouin dervish and slams us on the ground—in in the distance I see clouds in the shape of buzzards, beautiful and languid and hungry, and just above me, the windmill’s slow eternal spinning hands.
DREAM #2: Sancho Panza, 47, an illiterate squire
Under this unforgiving sun, I sit mule-back in the meagre shade afforded by a lone olive tree and I pick the fruit and bite and find it bitter. My bile rises for the want of brine. And of capers and of caper berries and of all things pickled and delicious. My donkey Dapple’s head is like a giant shovel and his large jutting jaw an insatiable maw! Oh what I could eat if I but had that hasp: In one Rabelessian moment, a dozen bocadillo con jamon y queso de cabra. And though I am but a goat at jest, I am still less than half as daft as this man here who’s taken leave of his senses, every one, pressed he claims into blessed service by God’s own voice. But it’s plain to see there will be no boquerones en vinagere, no ajo blanco with a nubile Mudéjar to grind the garlic with mortar and pestle, and no bread with which to sop it up, no bladders of wine at the ready, no gypsy girl to tickle my feet with rosemary branches as we moon over my island paradise, where I serve as Lord and Governor and bring together the Moor and the Jew and the Catholic alike: Come friends, one and all, come and bare your breasts and souls and be my guests. My ass is swayed and my back is bulging with the fat of years and indolence and friendships raised and toasted and devoured. Don Quixote has promised me this sacred isle de pace, but now, seeing his broken body lying in the earth beneath the tall and twisting windmill, all hope for it is dashed. But shall I leave him, return to my home and to my old wife, she who waved me a fond farewell, or to my daughter, who is herself old enough to marry, both who berate me so and so were happy to see me go?
True, the old man is little more than bluff and bluster, hot wind and noisy clang, like the time the wind rose and sang and loosed the Santa Maria bell from its moorings and blew it out of the church tower, bats bursting forth in all directions—the bell and frayed rope fell an impossibly long time and crashed in the earth, cracked, and let off one last note that tolled in the square for nearly a year, the noise caught somehow in the old winding streets, confused and lost with no way nor want to find its way home.
A native of the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, Michael Garriga is the author of the short story collection, The Book of Duels (Milkweed Editions, 2014). His work has appeared in The Southern Review, New Letters, Oxford American, and various other journals. He is also the co-editor of the literary journal, FictionSoutheast.com. He teaches creative writing at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, OH, where he lives with his wife and two sons.
I Am Become the News of the Day
Imagine a dancer spinning, spinning,
until the white chalk at her burning feet
spools itself into a thread and coils out
from her throat like the snaked coils
of a sun-fired pot in which a cobra
might or might not be sleeping--
Now say that the chalk was newsprint;
the coils, words, black ink spilled
in thin lines and banner fonts
along a plane reaching corner to corner,
bleeding almost off the edge,
which is to say, the world--
And those words, spiraling out
by centrifugal force, are not words only,
but time; and not any time, but now:
this moment, this, this, this, spooling
fast as a reporter can file
her version of the story or
the dancer can spot and pull her body
around and around and around--
And if you could still a single instant
from this motion, capture it unblurred
so that even some of the coiled-snake words--
damage, maybe, or crossroad, or even
free--were legible, if not intelligible,
wouldn’t it look like this?
With a magnifier you might read a clue
to the crossword, or the fine strands
of the dancer’s hair--
Is she not Atlas, bearing
the flattened weight of this moment’s
map, which is to say, of the world
as we know it now, and now, and now?
See: how ink and paper-whiteness
have spread like pox over her young face,
yoked as she is like an ox
to the plow of the current, or a planet
orbited by rings of water and ash--
Her lips are set, her red-rimmed eyes
look out—to what? What future
allows such burdens?
The weight of it, of paper.
Hannah Silverstein lives in Vermont. Her writing has appeared in Si Señor, The New Guard, and SWWIM Every Day.
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