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From the Archives: The Painter’s Small Wife

It’s hard to believe that this poem is more than a decade old. I wrote it during my fellowship time at the Fine Arts Work Center. I’d always enjoyed going to museums but this was the first time I’d ever lived among visual artists, visited their studios, engaged with art work outside of a museum or gallery space. It was the beginning of my long conversation with visual work, although I didn’t know then that I’d get to the point where I’d hear poems speaking to me the minute I walked into a museum show. But that’s another post for another time….

As I re-read the poem now, I realize that it captures some of my discomfort in my late 20s/early 30s at being an “artist,” of having a way of looking that was different than most of my friends. It’s taken me a long time to appreciate the way my brain works, and to know that there are people who appreciate my brain precisely because of my way of looking.

Oh, I should mention that as I remember Ellen’s painting, it was a gorgeous close-up of a tree trunk in a forest of trees.

“The Painter’s Small Wife”

(after an untitled painting by Ellen Altfest)

Yes, I said, I’m really looking,
not looking, wanting

nothing to remain
of the moment, nothing

to shred into something.
I wondered how

you saw it like that,
close-up of plates—

blue, white, yellow, pink—
that were the bark.

I saw that it was muddy.
And maybe there were three trees.

Your brushes, relentless,
drowned out everything.

Here, I wanted to say,
here I am,

blocking your light.
You painted the shadows,

admitting nothing.
I’m not sure if I hated you

then, or after.
Everything to me

simply brown or green.

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