Portrait of a Quaker Lady Reading
One’s finger in the book, one’s hand holding the brush--
together in an afternoon whose sun barely enters.
When a woman looks at a woman and she looks back,
what do they see? The drab each wears. The silence
in their bones. High words resounding, that they share.
Some red weight twisting, hovering overhead.
Their foremothers have traveled to preaching, to prison,
to the noose. That’s past now; the lady’s face is pale,
plain. She has been poured into a mold, has set
into a thick and luminous glass. Mrs. Waters moves
from town to town after her husband, earning cash,
bonneting art and fear inside. She paints precision:
each tuck, each frill, each impulse held by testimony.
Yet behind the lines, behind dull tones, they each can feel
the old joy surging—itinerant, death-bound, wild.
Anne Myles is Professor Emerita at the University of Northern Iowa, where she specialized in early American literature. She recently received her MFA in poetry at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her work has appeared in the North American Review, Split Rock Review, Whale Road Review, Lavender Review, and other journals. She lives in Waterloo, Iowa.
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