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For My Students In English 108 Who Complain That All Modern Literature Is Too Depressing

Susan Glickman
From:   The Power to Move. Montreal: Véhicule Press, 1986.


I don't believe in it myself, that lost world
of absolute coherence:
Vermeer's The Kitchen Maid where light glazes the jug
and the milk of paradise pours into the basin.
The girl's grip is steady as she gauges the flow,
it's a task two hands
can manage. The milk still steams
from the cow, the cow flicks her tail
and goes on grazing in a field of gold.
Heraldic crows inscribe arrows from heaven:
the path all good news travels.
The farmer wipes his brow but when he
looks up all he sees is the sun, a cloud
of midges, the distance left
to plough.

In Les Très Riches Heures of the Duc de Berri the frame
is frozen, the farmer perfected
as in an attitude of prayer, but this
is art. Say he is praying—suppose
his youngest boy has diphtheria.
His wife sat up all night brewing herbal tea but the farmer
needed to sleep. There's been too much sun, a hail
of poisoned darts, they're going to lose
the crop. Crows, after all, are carrion birds;
see how they circle the thatched roof
of the hut?
And as for Vermeer's bountiful maiden, note
her pensive face.
She's careful not to spill a drop because
she's a servant, indentured at ten
to a prosperous family.
From the swell of her bodice we might guess
she's carrying the burgher's child.
We could make it a sad story.
What we discovered in the Renaissance was perspective.



Susan Glickman's works copyright © to the author.


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