Some poems from the teacher


Before he had healed

She watched him
pull off the old Band-Aid,
not quickly so it wouldn’t hurt,
but slowly, over weeks,
each unavoidable tug
done as she watched
his vulnerability being torn away
with hair and skin.
The wound had needed more care
than he had given it though—
she could see that, and through
her eyes he came to know it, too.
As the gash bled anew,
as the wound reopened to view,
he wanted to cover it again,
he wanted for her to never
have seen into his pain.

As impossible as rewinding time,
as impossible as protection from
arrows in the heart,
nails at the throat,
screams in the ear
when betrayal cuts and trust dies.
As impossible as learning again
to love, to let in the tender,
honest salve of a kind word
when healing demands
time and solitude.

d hogue, 11/20/98

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The Bargain

 “Mary Cassatt: Modern Woman” special exhibition: Art Institute of Chicago, 1998

A hundred pairs of feet shuffle
in an awkward dance, moving aside,
forward, back or over, moving to
get a closer look, to be out of the way,
to move on in the slow progression
snaking their way through the exhibit.

Her paintings are shown
in a logical sequence: earliest works
to later works, interspersed with displays of
artifacts—as one might call them—personal
items of the family: a silver tea set used daily,
a chicken-skin, painted fan, opera glasses,
and a hat on which lay a grey, stuffed dove,
its feathers swept upward to decorate the
dome, its silver bead-like eyes and beak
still and futile near the band—
things belonging once to the artist
or her family.

Her portraits are of intimacy with domestic life:
Mother in morning dress against a serene
white background reading the newspaper—
her brother with his son, together in a chair,
so close the black of their jackets becomes
one idea, making it impossible to tell where
the father ends or where the son begins—
women with tea, women in gardens,
women in conversation, contemplating
their reflections in water, in the world
around them apart from men—
and portraits of mothers and their children
in moments made of warmth, nursing
and bathing: a child’s feet and mother’s
strong, confident hand submerged
in a lavender basin of clear water.

And there are more, of course—vivid
images of Spanish women and bullfighters—
women at the theatre or opera in a loge,
seen and being seen—
paler, softer prints made from etched
copper plates inked with watery tints—
and pastels in which she captured the sun
as an element like gold, not quite silver,
becoming light that radiates from the eyes.

Connecting with her themes, knowing
about the women, about their needing
to be part of the modern world, we
move on to more gilded frames,
oils that gleam in the light that floods
upon them from high ceilings,
life upon canvas that stands still
upon the walls, all calling
us to reckon with the truth,
and as I round a corner, swept
along by the shuffle, I am not
prepared to see, encased in glass
as were the tea set and the hat and fan,
Cassatt’s pastels—
laid in their boxes, wooden boxes
stamped by the French maker,
covered, as with the spray of
perfume, by the fine lavender
powder of ground pastels—
and upon seeing them,
I am halted,
overwhelmed by the idea
that these are more than
the result of her imagination—
these are the tools to deliver
her imagination—and each
was held firmly or gently in
her hands, each waited to
become what only her eyes
could see, each becoming
not only part of the picture
but part of her fingers, or
flecks in her hair as she pushed
away a fallen strand, or dust upon
her cheek as her hand would
rest there—
brushed upon her skirts, that pale
dust would become part of
everything she touched as
she moved throughout the
house or the town, becoming
forever an element of her universe.

And here they were—some
wrapped in white tissue, others bare,
lined by color, in gradient order,
some large, but some
so small that to use them would
surely mean their end—
all displayed in glass
as if they were in a sacred tomb.

Her pastels—and I,
in the same room:
and for this they charge $14.00—
a bargain of immense proportion.

 d. hogue, 12/07/98


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