Portrait

By Carol Muske

It is a portrait of a mother and daughter,
The mother in a blue bathrobe, standing
behind her little girl, hands on her shoulders.

 

Once I believed it was a cocoon, the deep
colors spun around a gesture, half-indicated-
just begun to unravel between them. A flower’s

 

slow bending down, petals falling: a release
of scent. But someone pointed out how tightly
the mother’s had grips the daughter’s shoulder,

how threatening the dark trees-just beyond
the open window through which they gaze.
Why hadn’t I seen through the suspension,

 

their seeming lassitude? They were alive,
not adrift. Why would life offer anything
other than its placid erasure? Nothing can last,

 

nothing will. Vines unfurl around the frame
in angry script, ominous branching-where
the eye won’t go willingly. Where did I

 

imagine the heart would go? To danger? No.
Past danger to dread, past dread to belief in
justice, past justice to refusal even of what’s seen:

 

the elements, the future storm that writes in
its own embrace, cloud-painted clouds. I would
ask to go back to the first moment when I stood

 

before it I would ask to go back to the place
where the artist first understood something about
the shape we made: that far back, before intention.

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