Martin Willitts Jr.
Woman with Parasol
(Based on Claude Monet’s painting, “Woman with Parasol”)
I. The artist
There is no hurry here.
She has been standing like this,
a parasol shading her from the sun
so her skin does not turn leathery
from standing still for so long, so long
her heart slows to nothingness, as time
is a breeze kissing her cheeks into red carnations.
She holds this pose while I gather my paints
as so many fingers. Her skirt moves like a fan.
Her body is held firm into a perfect shape
by a corset of herringbone, drawn tight as her breath.
I am about to capture her like this for eternity.
She can stand this way and never grow old.
She will hold this sunshade over her head,
her arms never tiring, the sun will never burn,
the blush on her cheeks will be fingerprints of paint
trying to keep everything in place, holding time
as if I could hold her hand and feel
the measure of her heart throbbing on her neck vein.
I could untie her bonnet, letting her hair go as a kite.
She holds that parasol as light plays on her face,
as I hold the light in my hand like fireflies.
I know more about light than I do about how to tell her
how much the light makes her face and changes it
like differences in autumn leaves. If I told her how I felt
she might cover her face with the parasol, embarrassed,
her white pearl gloves might shake with depredation,
her knees might buckle and faint
like a person too long in the sun. So I paint fluidly
and cast rays of colored light upon her face.
It is enough just to paint her like this,
to have her the way she is, and let her be admired
and adored by generations of men who will be enchanted
while all she does is hold this parasol on a summer day.
2. The model
Men stare at me. I am used to this.
They wonder where they have seen me before.
They open their mouths like parasols.
My son stares at me too, but he stares for a different reason.
He stares with the love of a child that still needs me
to hold his hand while crossing the street.
His eyes are small as my husband’s brush strokes.
He can stare at me all he wants.
I know he looks at me when he thinks I am dreaming.
He looks at the turn of my hand on the piano.
He watches as I pour a picture of water in the basin
and scrub my hands, turning the soap and water,
then drying them on a blue hand cloth.
He comments how my dimples match an orange’s.
He looks at his brushes and paints,
and his hands cannot stop painting on my skin.
I glance his way while he is not looking,
noticing how he murmurs like drying paint.
I love how he smells of turpentine.
I understand this smell means he has been painting me,
whether discussing the shimmer of light in my hair
with Renoir as they compare my skin to garden roses,
or as he stares at his own pipe smoke and sees me
as I draw up my stockings , or when his beard is dewy
and I touch it delicately like one of his paintings drying.
Ask me what you will of him
and I will open up like a parasol.
3. The child peering over the hill
I am about to come to the rise in the hill,
when I see them. Him with his brushes
and easel as his hand is quail flushed out.
Her posing, looking at him over her shoulder,
not moving any more than a blade of grass.
I hesitate, afraid to break the silence, the rhythm
of his hands like a conductor’s baton,
and her, the flutist ready to raise her instrument
to her pursed lips. I do not move. I am frozen.
I cannot even move back down the bluff
out of the picture, out of the silence, out
of something so important. I could see myself,
my surprise shielded under a straw hat,
the air curling my hair in its fingers.
Monet's Greatest Painting Was His Garden
Nature is what I imagine it to be.
I will study the same subject
until it is in my fingers
and I will paint over and over
the same scene finding the smallest
accent of light on a single blade
in a lone haystack abandoned to seasonal affects,
or reflection of cobblestone, or
how the light is mood on the Gothic
cathedral’s portal in Rouen,
or fog swallowing the Houses of Parliament,
so I diverted a river into my own design,
added pigments of exotic flowers
foreign to the area as romance is to others,
placing shade from weeping willows, the reeds
of bamboos so I could use them to make flutes,
adding chickens and pheasants to the enclosure
as mixing pallets of opposite colors and sound,
and rhododendrons compose the wooden bridge
that crosses the river so I may explore
both sides with dozens of canvasses
chasing light like searching for one last kiss.
Painting and Gardening
1. "Le Bassin aux nymphéas" by Monet
"I'm good for nothing except painting and gardening."--- Claude Monet
There is a Japanese footbridge
over a lily pond
in Giverny, that if you cross over
you enter paradise.
Those lily pads remind me of your eyes.
I want to lift them up into my hands.
2. "Au Jardin, la famille de l'artiste" by Monet
"I am looking for something I have not done before, a shiver my painting has not yet given." ---Claude Monet
My family blends into the garden,
among the blush of geraniums, merging
with trees, in a circle of open glen,
my wife opens a parasol like leaves
my son has planted himself, still as a deer
sensing the air changing around him
between is the scent of oils and lilacs
as the air trembles & shifts my drying paint
3. "Gondole à Venise"
"I want to paint the air in which the bridge, the house and the boat lie. The beauty of the air in which they are, and that is nothing other than impossible." --- Claude Monet
This is to be my last painting here.
I have been frustrated with my paintings
so I make dozens of the same cathedral
until my arms sweat paint, and still
I am never satisfied. My heart is a church bell
empty in the rafters, empty of certainty.
This gondola is docked like the stillness.
The water moves shadows restlessly.
Today no one guides lovers while singing.
Today the poles are lying on the deck, resting.
If I was to pole this boat under the arches
while travelers walked across brick bridges,
would the flowers in my house feel their passing?
Would the travelers look down upon my voice?
If the air was painted, would I ever be satisfied?
Would they go into their houses and know
Nothing is impossible.
©2008 by Martin Willitts Jr.
Martin Willitts Jr. is a Senior Librarian in New York. After a ten year break from writing, he has recent publications in Pebble Lake Review, Hurricane Blues (anthology), Slow Trains (chapbook), Hotmetalpress.net, Haigaonline, Bent Pin, 5th Gear, and others. He has a fifth chapbook, Falling In and Out of Love (Pudding House Publications, 2005), an online chapbook, Farewell--the journey now begins (www.languageandculture.net, 2006), a full length book of poems with his art The Secret Language of the Universe (March Street Press, 2006), and he has another chapbook, Lowering the Nets of Light, from Pudding House Publications. He won the 2007 Chenango County Council of the Arts Individual Artist Award, which he used to edit a poetry anthology about cancer Alternatives to Survival. He also judged the 2007 Hotmetalpress.net poetry chapbook contest.
These three poems are from an ongoing collection of poems about art and artists. Many of the other poems have appeared in other magazines, including Bent Pin, Big City Lit, Ibbertson Street, Hiss Quarterly, Fawlt, Hotmetalpress.net, Cherry Blossom Review, Mint Sauce, and other stories and poems (anthology), Persistent Mirage, Pulse, and Alternatives to Surrender (anthology). He is currently looking for a publisher for the complete collection.