Courbet and his Stonebreakers
Decades before his political exile,
the artist found his subjects by chance.
Two tattered brown-clad workers
smashing rocks to fist-sized chunks,
carrying them stacked in flat baskets,
out of sunlight up a shadowed slope.
He painted them almost life size
like grand figures from history or myth.
The young man steadies his load
on one thigh as if to shift
his weight to climb the rubbly rise.
His older comrade half-kneels
on straw to hack at a landscape
desolate as a battlefield or hell
where tools, a cooking pot, and empty
carriers lie strewn like seeds doomed
to be sproutless in this place of toil.
One corner of pale sky teases
with the promise of reward—if only
they can finish before full night falls.
Some among us struggle
from birth ‘til death at work
the rest of us would never do.
Most of those remain invisible
unless some visionary grants a glimpse
of who they were, what they did.
Such irony: this painting burned to ash
when Allied forces torched Dresden,
one more hapless consequence
of war’s horror, man’s unrelenting conceit.
Mary Redman is a retired high school English teacher who currently works part time supervising student teachers for University of Indianapolis, volunteers at the IMA at Newfields, and enjoys frequent walks in nature. She has had poems published in Flying Island, Red River Review, Tipton Poetry Journal, Snapdragon: A Journal of Healing, Kaleidoscope, So It Goes, Issue 9, and elsewhere. One of her poems received a Pushcart nomination in 2019.
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