Tom Montag's books of poetry include: Making Hay & Other Poems; Middle Ground; The Big Book of Ben Zen; In This Place: Selected Poems 1982-2013; This Wrecked World; The Miles No One Wants; Imagination's Place; Love Poems; and Seventy at Seventy.Two new collections, The River Will Tell You and Maybe Holy: Six Old Monk Poemsare forthcoming. His poem 'Lecturing My Daughter in Her First Fall Rain' has been permanently incorporated into the design of the Milwaukee Convention Center. He blogs at The Middlewesterner. With David Graham he recently co-edited Local News: Poetry About Small Towns.
POEM 1 from "The Woman in an Imaginary Painting"
Morning uncrosses its legs and goes for a walk. It
soon comes to noon. The woman in the painting doesn't
know noon from after so she waits. And those
of us standing here in front of her, we wait with her.
POEM 2 FROM "THE WOMAN IN AN IMAGINARY PAINTING"
She who watches every day as we come and go sees us enjoy her nakedness.
Light in the museum on her beauty makes shadow, makes sadness, that silence.
You think because we can leave the museum we are somehow superior.
She who watches knows your world is even sadder than the one she inhabits.
She knows and you do not. Only the poet loving her can see it. Only the artist who painted her.
POEM 3 FROM "THE WOMAN IN AN IMAGINARY PAINTING"
What is the narrative as she holds her naked
pose? She doesn't move, so we can't speak of
motion. The light stays and the shadows keep
their place. Blue sky out the window makes no
promises. You want a story. Every
naked woman should have a story, you think,
yet the world stands still in this instant, and those
who want more have to learn how to live without
what she would tell them.
POEM 4 FROM "THE WOMAN IN AN IMAGINARY PAINTING"
We might say she loved the artist as models
always do. The artist loved her too, as artists
always must. But love is not enough. It fails.
As always the only hope is that hope remains.
POEM 5 FROM "THE WOMAN IN AN IMAGINARY PAINTING"
They want great themes from the great artists,
great poets. They want hard truths. I want
her to be her, he says, the artist
who painted this woman. Nothing can
be great if you can't see that she is.
POEM 6 FROM "THE WOMAN IN AN IMAGINARY PAINTING"
Of all the things she wants, perhaps fresh bread is first,
steaming and slathered with butter the color of
the light in her hair. Wait! You can almost taste it.
POEM 7 FROM "THE WOMAN IN AN IMAGINARY PAINTING"
And the light against the wall
casts her dream as silence.
We do not know how long she
has been waiting here. We do
not know what the artist wants
from her. We do not know
what she hopes for. We can
only say for sure she has
found a stillness we cannot have.
POEM 8 FROM "THE WOMAN IN AN IMAGINARY PAINTING"
What we were is what we are and it's no different for the woman in the painting.
She is a hundred thousand moments of joy and sorrow, of light and the darkness which comes with it.
She is daughter and sister and cousin. She is her father's final disappointment.
The sun goes down on the hills of her childhood and here she is now, lonely and only a painting.
POEM 9 FROM "THE WOMAN IN AN IMAGINARY PAINTING"
thing she dresses
and un- dresses
the thin- ness of
what light gives her.
POEM 10 FROM "THE WOMAN IN AN IMAGINARY PAINTING"
Can we imagine a bead of sweat on her lips or
in the sweet place between her breasts? The artist would not
paint it, the proof of her endurance, yet her flesh was flesh
and the day was warm. We lie to ourselves. We turn from the truth.
Dream another dream, if you must, but this world is broken. When
we reach for the light we've already touched a farther darkness.