Oct/Nov 2002 Poetry Special Feature

Girl in an Imaginary Painting

by Jennifer Finstrom

Artwork by Tara Gilbert-Brever


Girl in an Imaginary Painting

I wake each day to this museum: room after room
of unchanged, dusty light. I see them from my gilded
frame: doors opening on a multitude of paintings, the mute
sculptures that do not answer us no matter how we speak,
glass cases filled with pleasant, simple things like glazed
plates and ceramic animals. I know that there are other women here.
I have glimpsed them reading books in shafts of sunlight, walking
with parasols along a bright embankment. Some hold their infants
for eternity, while others lay in a more violent pose, ravaged
and lonely in the aftermath of rape.

But in this place I am the minority. Here there is no furniture
for me to recline upon, no chair in a parlor, no bed in a chamber.
I am alone with the sky, gray as the first pale notion of a storm.
I am climbing a hill, also a grayish hue, and my younger sister
is following me, catching at my skirt as though she feared
to be left behind. I don't know my destination, whether
I am running away or running toward. My cheeks are flushed
with some emotion--shame or love--and my hair escapes
the ribbons that attempt to hold it back.

You might think I'm the sort of woman who needs to be rescued.
My dress is all ruffles, unsuitable for this austere hillside.
Flounces and tulle drag on the ground, heavy with dust.
The hint of a slipper peeks out beneath my skirt and I am clasping
white gloves in my left hand. Though one of them is beginning
to fall, I do not appear to have noticed its departure, do not
suppose that a new painting may soon be here, its title
"Lone Glove on a Gray Hill." Some days I want to stop this uphill
flight and roll back down, never mind what is waiting for me, never
what I have already left behind. I want to curl on my side, tucked
in my dress like a tiny cashew. I want the sun to rise at last
and dissipate these clouds.

But I am not without hope. My right hand is lifting, slightly,
toward my head. It appears to most observers that I mean
to tame my blowing hair and ribbons, to tuck wayward curls
where they belong. But I must believe otherwise.
The next time you see me, you won't even recognize me.
I'm taking off my bonnet; I'm ready to live.


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