Three centuries apart,
two paintings of a woman
The first is pregnant,
standing absorbed in a letter,
she is lit from an invisible
window to her right; the room is
sparsely furnished, a table,
two high-backed chairs, a scrolled parchment;
she is composed; we do not know
whether the letter contains
joy or sorrow, astonishment
We have been invited
into the middle of her story;
there has been a beginning, a marriage;
there will be, we hope, a healthy birth.
The second painting has
no source of light and no story;
to emphasise pattern and colour,
the painter has eliminated
spaces around objects;
we could not walk around the room.
The anonymous woman,
sitting at a table,
is a silhouette defining a shape
which is repeated on the tablecloth
and again on the wallpaper.
But there still has to be space
between me and the painting;
I could not appreciate
its swirling arabesques
and vibrancy of colour
with my nose pressed against it.
If perception requires
between figure and ground,
in the first painting
the woman is the figure
and the ground is the room
which surrounds her;
in the second, the painting itself
is the figure and the ground
is how I have displayed it,
in this case, on an old wooden door.
Two different styles of painting,
two different ways of seeing.
But this morning I gazed at the park;
the trees on my boundary
have become so lush they merged
with the park trees. It was only
when a car drove past that I could see
the distance between them.
There, was a Matisse.
On the other hand, if you had looked
into my solitary room
where I sat absorbed in thought,
you would have had a Vermeer.