Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Patricia Hampl, Matisse & Goldfish

Matisse's paintings have inspired so many modern poems, why not another?

Woman Before an Aquarium
by Patricia Hampl 
Woman before an Aquarium1921–23, Henri Matisse

The goldfish ticks silently,
little finned gold watch
on its chain of water,
swaying over the rivulets of the brain,
over the hard rocks and spiny shells.

The world is round, distorted
the clerk said when I insisted
on a round fishbowl.
Now, like a Matisse woman,
I study my lesson slowly,
crushing a warm pinecone

in my hand, releasing
the resin, its memory of wild nights,
my Indian back crushing
the pine needles, the trapper
standing over me, his white-dead skin.

Fear of the crushing,
fear of the human smell.
A Matisse woman always wants
to be a mermaid,
her odalique body
stretches pale and heavy
before her and the exotic wall hangings;
the only power of the woman:
to be untouchable.

But dressed, a simple Western face,
a schoolgirl's haircut, the plain desk
of ordinary work, she sits
crushing the pinecone of fear,
not knowing it is fear.
The paper before her is blank.

The aquarium sits like a lantern,
a green inner light, round
and green, a souvenir
from the underworld,
its gold residents opening and closing
their worldless mouths.

I am on the shore of the room,
glinting inside
with the flicker of water,
heart ticking with the message
of biology to a kindred species.
The mermaid - not the enchantress,
but the mermaid of double life -
sits on the rock, combing
the golden strands of human hair,
thinking as always
of swimming.

painters and poets


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