Saturday, February 21, 2015

Poet David P. Miller on Paintings by Van Dyck and Rembrandt

David P. Miller’s chapbook The Afterimages was published in 2014 by Červená Barva Press. His poems have appeared in print in Meat for TeaStone Soup Presents Fresh Broth, Ibbetson Street, Stone’s Throw, and the 2014 Bagel Bards Anthology, and online in Muddy River Poetry ReviewWilderness House Literary ReviewOddball Magazine, and the Boston and Beyond Poetry Blog.  His “micro-chapbooks” are available from the Origami Poems Project website. Miller is a librarian at Curry College in Milton, Mass.

Van Dyck’s First Saint Jerome

An elderly workingman models the saint.
Old man, though his hair as it scraggles
from the part at his crown has much black.
His beard grays drooping in two
points toward his bare chest.
Aging, this guilder-shy citizen:
Saint Jerome with the arms of a stonecutter.
Van Dyck, Saint Jerome1618 - 1620

The saint’s nakedness is shielded by drapery,
crimson, that drifts from his right thigh
across the left knee, and pauses,
unsupported in air before circling
his lower back. If he stands it will drop
to the ground at the feet of the model.
His leathered torso abject.

Saint Jerome spreads open a scroll
on which nothing is written. Looks down
at this empty strip, ignores us
who face his toughened, dignified frame
with bare hints of fold or sag.

His lion sleeps at his right, pussycat
face curled into its paws.
Pale lemon dawn behind
mountains, deep distant beyond
the grove where the saint wrinkles his forehead.
The unwritten poised on his lap.

And the cherub. Plump, smooth-bodied,
of course, but spared the superfluous fat
of those tedious babies with wings. Its look
imperturbed, absolved of routine
goggle-eyed adoration. Blessed
instead with a mind. One hand rests
quietly on the stonecutter’s shoulder. A quill
in the other. Its brown eyes focus
intention toward us. It watches us stare
at this near nude, forgotten old man,
suspended in thought before writing
as his angel awaits with the pen.
  
Rembrandt: The artist in His Studio

A.
Rembrandt, The Artist in His Studio, 1628
Pale daffodil light swathes
this canvas the height
of a man. Afternoon settles
across the painter’s work.
Dark dorsal side of stretcher,
roughened wood-stock easel
all Rembrandt gives us to see.
The artist in floppy black hat,
cobalt robe, grasping mahl stick
and brush, retreated upstage,
his back at the shadowed wall.

B.
In a setting of bare whitewashed
cracked plaster walls,
wide floor- and door-boards,
a painting turned with its back to us
is irradiated. The painter,
Rembrandt’s approximate double,
posed to resemble a painter,
turns black dot eyes,
featureless features,
on this luminous thing in his studio.

C.
We see no afternoon window.
The artist is dressed for the act
but holds no palette. Rembrandt has dwarfed
this little painter, withdrawn
with youthful dough-face
into the shadows, away
from the tripedal creature
of canvas and wood, of itself
blazing the studio. Perhaps
it is blank. All in
potential. Uncreated,
unmarked.

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