Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE PORTRAIT, by KAREN SWENSON

Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE PORTRAIT, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: He wouldn't buy her shoes
Last Line: A portrait of a woman as less than one.
Subject(s): Paintings And Painters; Poverty; Women

He wouldn't buy her shoes
because her family was rich.

So she washed the curds
out of the milk bottles -
love clung a sour white scab on glass -

and took the bottles back to the dairy
saving the pennies for cheap shoes.

It was only after she was crippled
that she came home on carbuncled feet,
to live again with her brothers and sisters

in the house where the prairie wind
sloughed the last scent off the roses.

She painted their roses on their plates;
for their dining-room wall, in another frame,
blue ripples of grapes falling into their own shadows

on a tablecloth -
bloom on china - ripeness on canvas.

And again and again she painted herself,
not in a palette of poses, but always
quarter-profile against a ringent background;

only shoulders and a fracture of a face,
just enough to be someone you almost knew.

When he died in a telegram
she painted herself quarter-view again -
a portrait of a woman as less than one.

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