(Portrait of a Lady in Blue by Mather Brown)

Gilt-edged, contained by the brilliant borders
Of convention, she stares forthrightly out.
A starched five-layer cake of lace stiffens
Her neck. Her bosom bound and brassèd, she
Regards us now, erect within her frame,
Agog at our modernity.

                                          The chair
On which she sits must lie outside the frame.
Its legs are scratched, the worn brocade obscure.
And why the tassels? Who could see them there,
Dragging the dusty carpet? Still, we know
A full-length view would call the chair to life.
Perhaps the patron balked at the expense.

The artist’s hand now hastens to its task:
The light behind him through the window fades
With each stroke of the brush, or so its seems.
He charms her motionless with just a glance.

Also outside the frame: the sitting ends
At early dusk; the footman shows her out.
We see her lift her skirts to clear the mud.
Her cheek against the carriage window-glass,
She watches windy rain occlude the trees.

That awful man! He bade me sit so still:
“Now, Madame, if you please, just keep the chin
In the position I have shown. Just so.”
Standing before her by the parlor fire,
And backlit by the window and the rain,
Her husband rests his hand upon her arm.
My darling, you have been so very kind
To undertake this for my sake, that I
Might keep you here when you are far away
From me.

               And now that time and circumstance
Have sundered her from us, have pressed her flat,
Rectangular and perched upon a wall,
We are delivered here to stand, and must
Declare with all our fullness we can see
within her frame the world, without our eyes.

October 8, 1996

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