Original Poetry / Poetry

Bloom Creative Writing: Two Poems by Kirk Swearingen

Interior with Young Lady

for Louise-Adéone Drölling (1797-1831)

Saint Louis Art Museum/Unsplash
The light makes the scene, pouring through six panes
of the tall window, revealing itself,
as light does, only by the company
it keeps, smoothing some objects by caress,
igniting others by glint or hue.

Turning from the window, upon which she
holds tracing paper over a book-pressed
tulip, she glances at her pet squirrel
(of all things!), tethered by a blue ribbon
to an Empire armchair and munching
an apple. (Is it a pomegranate?)

Medium foreground, on the parquet floor,
a crumpled sheet. An earlier attempt? 
A note to a lover? No. Girls with squirrels
don’t have lovers. She is too young, her face
too placid—an earlier attempt, then.

Why do I come here,
to this spot each year,
on my birthday jaunt
to the museum? 
My annual flight
from the Dullard I,
to old books and art
and whatever else
I can cram into
one day to remind
myself of boyhood,
that view of the world.

My older daughter,
Anna, has come along.
She sits on a blue
stool, sketching a Degas
with a bowling-alley
pencil. She is five,
with perfect braids in
her honey-brown hair,
a turtleneck sweater
(burgundy), and jeans
and boots. She sits with
enviable posture
(I see for the first time),
absorbed in her work,
as I am in mine.
I’ve promised sledding
on Art Hill when we
finish and eat lunch.
The sled’s in the trunk.

Last year, I noted the season, spring,
by the tulip. The direction of her
view from the window I figured as south.
(A Roman-numeraled clock on a church
which dominates her view shows the time
to be early morning. The shadows say
that west is that way; thus, she faces south.)

The precise time is not. The hands are hard
to make out, but it is clear the artist
did not imagine me peering this close
some hundred seventy years after she
brushed an hour hand slightly too far along,
out of kilter with the minute hand.

Let’s say it is 9:12 in the morning.

She has books. The diffused light makes the old
leather bindings glow from within the squat 
glass-front case. Those she has pondered lately,
four, are casually stacked on top, next to
a touch of cheerful brightness: a bouquet–
gold, pink, white–in a glass. A pallid bust
nearby plays counterpoint to the flowers.

Why do I come here,
to this place, each year?
What do I expect
to glean? That I stand
here is in keeping
with the museum-
going credo I
formulated in
 my later twenties:
Linger with a few;
then get the hell out.
But why this painting,
Interior with
Young Lady Tracing
a Flower? Its subject
is ordinary:
a room, a window.
A difficulty
as well, to hover
here. Others pass by,
their eyebrows saying
“This one? Shouldn’t you
be standing in front
of the Monets?”

A pleasant mystery, this girl. Perhaps
a student? A guitar hangs on the wall.
(Do I misinterpret that from my late–
twentieth century perspective?) Is
this her only room? Where, then, is the bed? 
In the mirror’s reflection one can see
the ceiling and part of the walls across
in the opposite corner of the room.
Below would be the bed: spare, freshly made.
So, an art student who pilfers tulips.
Or is she a spirited young woman
of a wealthy house with the time required
for art and books and doting on squirrels?

A real girl has tugged 
my coat sleeve. She holds
a sheaf of sketches,
and we walk around
the room to admire
them against the originals.
She is pleased, and we
move, hand in hand, out
of the gallery.

Why do I come here?

Perhaps it is the light that draws me back.
Rendered so deftly, so delicately,
it seems light itself was taken up on
the artist’s brushes and smoothed onto her
canvas in its myriad tempers:
breathtakingly crisp morning light outside
the dark room, casting buildings into sharp
relief and rendering the golden stone
of the cathedral almost a rose, steals
invisibly into the room itself,
setting a green makeshift curtain aglow,
then mellowing by imperceptible
degrees. The light passing through the tracing
paper diminishing ever so slightly
the hue of the girl’s face, her neck, her drab
gray-green dress, then catching a light-happy
hue deeper within the room—a red throw
on a chair, an orange-red scarf, the bouquet,
the guitar face—and firing up again.

Each gradation understood, rendered,

and captured forever, immutable light.
An interior always remaining
one morning in spring, a girl, a flower—

how you might capture
(were you artist enough)
a girl’s perfect braids,
or a day of sledding—
time passing like light.

After Her Stroke

Brandi Redd/Unsplash
After her stroke, we read to each other—
my mother delighting to speak out, with me—
stories by George Gissing and William Trevor.

I'd picked these authors for our endeavor,
to challenge her with homespun therapy.
After her stroke we read to each other.

In that bloodless coup, connections sever;
she'd have to speak a path to recovery,
stories by George Gissing and William Trevor.

"Lovers of Their Time" and "Fleet-Footed Hester"—
we fell under the spell of each story.
After her stroke, we read to each other,

paragraph to passage to page, in pleasure,
as she sat in her blue chair, happy to be
dazzled by George Gissing and William Trevor.

And after some weeks, there was no slur;
literature had done its thing—to untether.
After the stroke, we read to each other,
stories by George Gissing, and William Trevor.
Photo by Jyll Swearingen

Kirk Swearingen studied journalism, half a lifetime ago, at the University of Missouri. His poems have appeared in Delmar, MARGIE, and The American Journal of Poetry. With poet George Fortier, he co-founded The Project (a writers’ collective so-named to allow them to discuss it while at the office), now in its 27th year.  His recent efforts in journalism have appeared in Salon and on Medium.

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