Poems in Honour of Vermeer

On Woman with Balance

Here I stand, the Last Judgement hanging
over my shoulder, and Christ pointing —
“You go here.   You go there.”
The poor souls believe,
obey without question,

But notice, if you will, that I am poised
before the lighted window,
that the scales in my hand are empty —
nothing here,  nothing there —
and another kind of weighing,
Who am I? Is this who I am?

There is no answer,
never an answer.
Only the brush against the canvas,
a trying this,  a trying that
and then the reckoning.

by Mary K. Stillwell


On Woman Asleep

No, not asleep, but nearly so,
as close to my bed as I can get,
my body folded down
into the closest chair,
the evening stretching
before my closed eyes
like a thickly painted canvas,
playing over and over, the laughter,
the quickening light from the hearth,
the dappled corners where dark
caresses arm, leg, breast
through heavy clothing,
the music I tap my foot to
when I do not dance,
but oh, how I love to dance!
Day and night, light and shadow,
dance and rest, these are the rhythmes,
men and women, making whole.

by Mary K. Stillwell

On The Art of Painting

I rather think him an ass,
the way he’s posed me here
with these props, the trumpet stand
the laurel wreath, this book,
as though I’m looking over my own shoulder,
deep in meditation,
the way he sits all morning
on his own squares looking
and mixing, looking
and marking, looking.
“Just there,” he repeats
each time a stray thought
of moon carries me out over the water,
or scent of grass lifts me
onto the new green floor of spring.

Here it is foul, the odor of paint
and cleaner, dusty drapes,
clothing oily with use.  Yes,
I tap my foot without thinking,
drying leaves slide from my hair,
my eyes find the window,
the close bird, the sky.  Let
him have his art, his black hat,
this room, this fixed time.
Notice he keeps his back to you,
and that in holding me here
he sets me free to dream.

by Mary K. Stillwell


On The Little Street

I’m the one in the doorway,
to the right, and this is my favorite time
to mend, morning just greeting cobblestone,
air still chill.   Early sun calls us
all outside to wash our walks,
sweep our passageways,
stitch our seams,  to start our day
as clean and orderly as the sky,
housekeeping as necessary as vine,
tendrils threading over brick.

by Mary K. Stillwell