Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window – Poem

Afternoon light falls

on ochres and reds and pale golds.

Velvets and linens and wools

sway heavily in the light

breeze that passes through

this bower of abundance.

The letter she holds has been read before.

Pulling taut the wrinkled sheet she reads

again what she could now recite.

The word on which her gaze falls so intently

reach from the page like a familiar touch,

tender and faint as the delicate script

bleached by the light of this autumn afternoon.

Perhaps it is from an absent husband, running

the trade that brought these rugs a thousand miles,

and bought this fruit, best of harvest, for her table.

Perhaps not. It may be she who has gone away.

Given in marriage beyond what she knew to hope for,

taken from the sound of known feet on the village path,

from a circle of friends gathered to gossip

at the brookside after the day’s tasks,

from the mother who writes her now, wondering

whether, in her grand house, among her servants

and soft garments, she still cares for news from home.

Not even her mother knows how much

she cares: how she is glad that the old, blind cobbler’s

young apprentice is kind to him, and repairs

without a word the vagrant stitches on sole and tongue,

and calls him father; that her sister is learning

to weave and has taken her place reading verses

after the evening meal; that the little hunchback still rides

on the peddler’s cart and laughs back

at the children who laugh at him.

The streets of this city are silent as her ear strains

for familiar sounds. No woman’s voice summons her

in this household where, as yet, there is no babe

to cry or nurse to scold. The man who adores her

knows her only as his lady.

None of them knows how she would like, some evenings,

to lay her coiffed head on a breast broader and softer than her own;

to bake, morning, in a kitchen crowded with bowls and chatter;

to strip off her fine-stitched shoes and wade in a muddy brook

in secret, skirts gathered, with a giggling friend

in the heat and falling light of the afternoon.

In Quiet Light: Poems on Vermeer’s Women by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre

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