Interior with Young Lady
for Louise-Adéone Drölling (1797-1831)
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
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.
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.