Visibile Parlare in Sotto Voce
I. What the Painter Hears
A Song from the Viennese, Whispered to Klimt
You wanted our encounter to be a ritual,
planned every detail:
Ivy circled your hair,
I interlaced mine
with violets and jasmine.
Wrapped in a diaphanous sarong,
I stood by the bed of forget-me-nots.
You held me
against your silk kimono,
the sun's folded wings framed us
in its golden coin.
Losing my balance, I fell on my knees,
clinging to you,
my arm around your bent shoulder.
Eyes closed, I could see your hands
cupped around my face
as if holding a precious porcelain.
I pressed my toes
against the ground
afraid we’d sink
into the abyss,
both trapped within one trunk,
as if you were my own
and I, Mother Earth bearing fruit,
merging our beginnings.
Let me become that space
between your palms,
the mark of your lips on my cheek.
II. The Artist as Voyeur
Schiele’s Glimpse at Love
I want them to hold each other as if it were their last embrace.
It is unusual, I know, for anyone to witness such fiery tenderness
but long to see desire itself as I’ve always dreamt it,
not as I saw it in eyes saddened by layers of Kohl and mascara.
Isn’t it what the child in us seeks,
to be one with the primal act of one’s conception?
I want to forget the circled eyes of children consumed
by their own fire, their pupil, the color of pain and loneliness . . .
So I tell my models not to delay this embrace. They undress clumsily,
hug each other so tightly they can’t breathe. His arms pressed
around her waist crush her, yet she should not feel the pain,
for what is pain if not of longing, or letting go?
I want her hair to cascade in deep green over the white folds
of wrinkled sheets framing their face: let it fall on the nape of his neck,
let him sense her sweet fragrance. I want him to wish he’d drown
in their dark waters, in the depths of scenes rushing into his mind,
of her of him of them of then of now all at once.
I want to be part of his vision, wish I could paint myself in his place,
feel images flow from her skin to mine. I turn the hour hand back,
and over moonless waters in the darkness of a womblike warmth,
I glimpse my own reflection in their surrender,
the desire of myself dissolving time and space.
Her fingers run over his shoulder, digging nails into his flesh
as if writing on clay, a clay I have become, for I know too well how
she remodels his chin, his lips, his cheekbone, her fingertips rest
in the crease of his earlobe, giving me time to paint, to imagine how
she remodels my chin, my lips, my cheekbone, her fingertips resting
in the crease of my earlobe as I draw myself onto them.
My back overlaps his, as my body and hers become one
with every stroke. She forgets him, a mere screen for this séance
to take place. He whispers through her hair, but I know
she only hears my brushstrokes thrusting her face into her shoulder
as if trying to silence her, forcing her to bite her own flesh.
I know she will later read my unwritten words on the canvas.
Does she notice how his voice is now covered by the sound of my brush?
I paint myself as I paint them, a day at a time, my words suffused
in linseed oil muffle even their thoughts, seep through sheets,
beneath wavy curls, fold white curves around her body, between her legs.
She opens up like a flower offering more surfaces to the wind.
As I press the tip of the brush, I hear them think in Braille.
My palette feels heavier, the session is over. They dress up
like empty shells, leave me facing Us in a visibile parlare,
She and I, in such an embrace, I will never recapture.
III. Before the Storm
The Wind Trapped by Kokoshka, Rests by his Bride
He lies eyes wide-open, brows tense,
lips pressed together,
his rugged hands
knotted over his belly as if in pain.
They have just made love,
their bodies’ tide lulled her to sleep,
and soon, they’d be swept away
in a whirlwind . . .
yet she sleeps unaware,
lost in enchanted woods
while he senses the gust miles away,
hears murmurs in the thickets,
feels ripples formed
by frightened wings.
Head leaning on his shoulder,
a closed fist against his chest,
her dreams speak in tongues,
in her faint smile . . .
under her lowered eyelids.
He remembers how she’d wait for him:
in the clearings at her doorstep,
by the circular fountain
beneath tall beech trees.
He’d watch her read omens
in their bark’s charcoaled eyes,
outline her profile . . .
a medallion in evening sepia,
see her dress tremble
at the slightest breeze;
he’d enter the courtyard,
rush through dark corridors,
drape himself with her smell
till she’d bend under his weight.
As though lying in tall branches,
they feel the rustle of leaves,
the sway of sycamores, imposing pines.
He has to leave without looking back,
join forces with the North wind,
break the reflection captured in her eyes.
Could he ever explain he was just
the substance of her dreams?
She would wake up soon,
the fury of the storm deafening,
its call irresistible,
erasing the mirage of her shadow .
He thinks of getting up but cannot move . . .
the painter’s gaze anchoring him by her side.
This poem was first published by MuseumViews: Art Info. It also appeared in Under Brushstrokes (Hedy Habra, Press 53, 2015).
Hedy Habra is a poet, artist and essayist. She has authored three poetry collections, most recently, The Taste of the Earth(Press 53 2019), Winner of the Silver Nautilus Book Award, Honorable Mention for the Eric Hoffer Book Award, and Finalist for the Best Book Award. Tea in Heliopolis won the Best Book Award and Under Brushstrokes was finalist for the Best Book Award and the International Book Award. Her story collection, Flying Carpets, won the Arab American Book Award’s Honorable Mention and was finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award. Her book of criticism, Mundos alternos y artísticos en Vargas Llosa, examines the visual aspects of the Peruvian Nobel Prize Winner's narrative. A fifteen-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the net, and recipient of the Nazim Hikmet Award, her multilingual work appears in numerous journals and anthologies. https://www.hedyhabra.com/
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