Portrait of Valentine Godé-Darel by Ferdinand Hodler (1914)

Speed Art Museum - Louisville, Kentucky

The eyes must say it all.
No longer filled with fear or agony
but a weariness so deep
I cannot make their brown
brown enough. Their lids become wedges:
the earth in the sun's orange light
or crescents of the sweet fruit dripping
from our fingers last Christmas morning.

Bruises rise to the surface of your cheeks
and I paint them like ice floes
bound in the cracked leather satchel of your skin. Quick—
in unmixed strokes, blue
of water that restores, to dash
about your shoulders like a cloak.

Behind you, a sky that waits for snow.
How softly it used to fall outside our window.
The room was quiet, sun on ice
flashing beyond the panes. Your perfect lobes
question marks curving from your hair.
My lips remember their tender flesh and I am afraid
that by painting them, I make your silence permanent.

So I paint a country road across your clavicle,
a town inside the hollow of your throat,
where once I saw a drop of water quiver
like the heartbeat of a sparrow. Your jawline
blurs, the effect of light shimmering on the horizon.
Everywhere, I paint you green: green
like unripe fruit, or moss that clings to stone.

(First appeared in The Chariton Review)