Friday, August 13, 2010

Femme au chapeau

I've been thinking about ekphrastic poetry again lately, how much I enjoy poems that use paintings as touchstones. I'm a big fan of a wonderful illustrated book by Lynne Knight called Snow Effects after an exhibition called "Impressionists in Winter" that came through San Francisco some years ago. My father was a painter, and I'm sure that watching him gave me ideas about creativity.

This is one of my poems based on paintings, from my book of the same name. I think I need to go to a museum soon. Or visit a friend's studio!

FEMME AU CHAPEAU

– after a painting of his wife by Matisse, 1905

She’s ready to doff tradition’s muff and the cane
on which she stylishly leans. Yeats is about
to write: The bees build in the crevices. Her mane
of red is upswept, but wants out.
Hollowed by chaos, her face is Internet
turquoise and neon pink, cartooned as if
she were a television on which we get
the perennial game show, What’s the Dif?
Miracles of the time are all around her—
the German and his unconscious, Pavlov’s reflex—
a patent examiner with a theory that avers
time’s not absolute. Matisse goes psychedelic
on a woman’s face. Titled Woman, like so
many painters’ wives, she seems not to see
the changes or first she’d remove that chapeau,
and its crushing fruit, its dour antiquity.
Eyes wild as pinwheels whirl questions:
If we can’t escape birth or condition,
what’s the point? If not now, when?
Who will I be, Henri, when I come to fruition?
as a woman all rainbow atomic ignition.