Henry Clay Frick before Vermeer's Officer and Laughing Girl
Since childhood I haven't suffered in the flesh
save eyestrain from hunching over a ledger
in light dimmed to conserve oil.
Sleep stopped my eyes' burning.
I was happy when you were born. But now I'm forgetting
your life, have only things: a quilt's singed corner,
a once-worn dress, and a shuttlecock's gray feathers.
Awkward, posed pictures recall memories
of your sick bed, Easter services, a September lawn game.
Only in memory survives the image of you
coughing up blood. There your bones ratchet
beneath barely-concealing skin. Speechless
doctors watch. In their breaths, I hear she'll
on the inhale. On the exhale, die. She'll die. She'll die.
I believe you are seen by those
who glimpse beyond this world to make art
with scenes alive in God’s world, like this laughing girl
the age you would be now. Vermeer set her
where windowed sunlight gestures to the room's vanishing point.
She rises from the shadows of her dress.
The officer's profile hints at facial hair. If he turned
to face me, I'd see his beard creep from where there is no skin,
half his face only skull, jagged where teeth meet bone.
You smile because this is beautiful to you,
but your—that girl’s—her perspective hurts me.
You weren't meant to reach her age, so
I offer you enchanted smiles like this girl's,
stretching for light beyond this window pane.
Gary Leising is the author of the book, The Alp at the End of My Street, from Brick Road Poetry Press (2014). He has also published three poetry chapbooks: The Girl with the JAKE Tattoo (Two of Cups Press, 2015), Temple of Bones (Finishing Line Press, 2013), and Fastened to a Dying Animal (Pudding House, 2010) He lives in Clinton, New York, with his wife and two sons, where he teaches creative writing and poetry as a professor of English.
The Ekphrastic Review
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