There is something of me that I am not.
To start with, while we so wondrously
lay naked there together, I resisted this:
we are not that, that is how we,
compelled by custom, present ourselves.
‘Present,’ I said, ‘in perfectly creased clothes
faultlessly ironed by servants.’
But you, with honeyed words and strokings
where I most preferred to be stroked,
could so persuade me ‘we’ll have ourselves eternalised,’
you said, ‘and later on when we no longer live
we will remain, though held apart
in each our oval painting,
All that was over from our bed – close by
while I tried so hard to
sit still for that portait,
were the fleas, just two or three,
which beneath stiff collar and inside the dress
quite undisturbed – for I was still forbidden
to make a move – burrowed
their pillaging forays.
I put it to myself that in the light
of eternity three fleas would no longer
do much damage. But
now the two of us are long
since dead and even the oil-
portraits, hung as pendants
side by side, my husband’s oval
turned into a square and
acquired by a distant museum –
against all promises thus
cruelly separated nonetheless –
I sometimes in my memory attempt
to return to those days of posing.
What were my thoughts, how did I sit
serene like that, how, as wife of
the well-known brewer, did I stay
so cool, so noble and elevated,
how did I keep out of that portrait
what we at nightime felt together?
while even so I sat on pins
and pins what’s more that pricked.
This poem describes a picture at the Rijksmuseum. To see the portrait, go to here.