Tom Montag

The Woman in an Imaginary Painting

Can you call her
woman, who is

all light and shadow?
Can you call her

daughter, sister?
Is she the girl

who rode her horse
into the sun

on a winter day?
Is she the girl

who kissed no one
and nothing, still

wishing for love
she could not have?

If we could make
her promises,

would we keep them?
If she could step

out of the painting
would she want what

she steps into?


The Woman in an Imaginary Painting

If she had been
a hermit in
the mountains he

would not have
painted her and
she would have laughed

to think she could be
art. She is not
a hermit, although

her loneliness
is like that of
the old monk

picking wild greens
for medicine, for
food, for tea: she

makes of her
silence the same
kind of day.


The Woman in an Imaginary Painting

She will no longer allow us to tell
her what to do. She has had enough
of that, of holding the pose he wanted.

She wanted to turn towards the light coming
in the high window: she wanted to find
something out beyond the horizon. But

no. This nakedness, this kitchen, this pose:
this is the last duty she bears, and
she grants us no power. The silence

now in the museum, the darkness
she knows, the emptiness she endures,
these the only gifts she can bless us with.


The Woman in an Imaginary Painting

An angel naked in the kitchen,
I don’t think so. A girl old enough

to sit as exposed as a still life,
fruit in a stone bowl on her table.

She wonders what art makes of her, what
art makes of anything. She wonders

why the artist keeps at painting her
day after day. It is as if he has

no other life, as if obsession
with her is all-consuming, as if

paint on canvas makes and re-makes
the world. She holds her pose. She thinks

of peaches in the bowl, thinks of cream  

© Tom Montag

Tom Montag‘s books of poetry include: Making Hay & Other Poems; Middle Ground; The Big Book of Ben Zen; In This Place: Selected Poems 1982-2013; The Miles No One Wants; Love Poems; and Seventy at Seventy.  His poem “Lecturing My Daughter in Her First Fall Rain” has been permanently incorporated into the design of the Milwaukee Convention Center. He blogs at The Middlewesterner. With David Graham he recently co-edited Local News: Poetry About Small Towns.

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