The Music Chamber (Why I am not Matisse)

published in Sidereality

I started a painting

of two girls and a mother.

The girls sit at a piano

with their faces turned away.

Why, I don't know.

Are they looking for some forgotten light,

those wounded lovelies?


The curtains are half-drawn. A lovely

noon. I haven't decided

how many colors to let in.

So far the girls are huddled ink --

in a stupor maybe

from my endless wavering.  (Should they wear pink? Are they any less innocent

if I smear them in gray wash?)


A dwarf figure, more like a stump

howls by the garden door. Yes, they are looking

toward it -- toward Mother. Crazy, I will admit,

but I hear her too. A howl

from a stump.


Wait. The piano's slippery keys.

Are those what they feel? The one girl, rapt,

picks a rhythm on the keys, a drowsy ping,

ping, like wax dripping on doilies.

Queenly steel blue eyes that






No! Wrong: gleam.

A gleam of black and steely something

slips down from Mother's sleeve:

How on earth


did she get in?


Quick, erase the arm, the bleeding whatsit --


Too late,

I've brought in a note of savagery: I'm watching, I can't intervene.

Everything's on a grim course

of inevitability. 

There and there and there,  beating with their tiny fists

the girls pounce on the knife in a rush

and Mother falls --

A charcoal saint

in bloodied crinoline.


How did it happen? 

I wanted two girls, a mother,

a music chamber, a sweetly tender scene.... All the smiles

that a mother could wish.


And then came the stray thought,