By Barbara Lydecker Crane
The Montréal Review, September 2021
When I Was Young
Untitled (Self-Portrait), a painting by Emily Carr
(1871-1945), Victoria, Canada, 1924-5
I liked my mop of chestnut hair cropped short.
No need to brush before I’d rush outside
to the woodland park nearby, where I’d consort
with creatures blessedly undignified.
A bug or bird would never have to hear
Clean up your muddy footprints yet again….
Girls are judged from how they first appear….
Of course you’ll marry….You must do more when
your mother isn’t well and can’t do chores….
Recite a Bible verse you learned today.
I’d obey, and on rainy days indoors,
I’d paint. Two times I heard my father say,
You do not act as an English daughter should,
but my dear Em, your artist’s eye is good.
Portrait of Mrs. Zimmerman
a painting by Prudence Heward (1896-1947);
Arlene, a neighbor, wanted me to use
her newly-minted name in the title. She
had wed a soldier the week before he
was shipped to fight in Europe. “No excuse,”
Arlene maintains, “to mope about.” She prides
herself in gleaming yellow rolls of hair,
red lips and nails, a frank and open stare.
No dungarees today–her skirt provides
a bit of grace below her plain grey shirt.
I paint the strength of Arlene’s legs and arms
and marvel at her mixed magnetic charms.
Of course a proper woman cannot blurt
that thought. With bright abandon I can paint,
but certain feelings stay behind constraint.
Portrait of Zamor
a painting by Marie-Victoire Lemoine
(1754-1820); Paris, 1785
The countess educated this young slave,
Zamor, then rued what proved her own undoing.
The young boy learned the lessons that she gave,
and grew…as disillusionment was brewing.
Her protegé made mention, while I painted
him in satin, that he read Rousseau.
He chattered that King Louis's court was tainted
with opulence that he'd himself forgo
if every citizen were free and equal.
Amid ensuing strife that I detest,
I learned of this accounting's dreadful sequel:
Zamor arranged the countess's arrest.
After time in prison, never seen,
my friend the countess met the guillotine.
Portrait of Beauford Delaney, a painting
by Georgia O ’Keefe (1887-1986);
New York City, 1943
I know he’s troubled, this quiet, well-dressed man.
Although the critics praise this Negro’s art,
it doesn’t sell. He earns what cash he can
posing for other artists like me, and part-
time work as doorman or museum guard.
He hints at liking men; that ’s not at rights
with Christian precepts he was taught. “So hard,”
he shakes his head, “to live by my own lights.”
He murmurs he’s afraid he ’ll come unstrung.
I’ve come unstrung myself, with my depression
and a breakdown. Each of us has clung
to painting as our refuge and obsession.
We wrestle with our objects of devotion–
a burning bush, a bone, the wide sky-ocean.
Stanislawa’s Hair is Brushed and Bowed
Self-Portrait with Daughter, a painting by Aniela
Pajakówna (b.1864 Poland, d.1912 Paris); 1907
Do you see the worry in my eyes,
my careless hair, and how my mouth is set?
My daughter knows our state. She’s six, and wise
beyond her years. Although she’s rarely met
her father, Stani has his stalwart will
and clever mind. A budding dramatist,
she makes up lively stories while I fill
our trunks to move again. I’ll never miss
Vienna, Krakow, Munich, Zurich: whispers
and cold shoulders trailed us. Paris is next.
I’ll find a room for us that’s near my sister.
Can’t an artist ever earn respect
if she’s a mother who has never wed?
Is nothing more about her to be said?
Barbara Lydecker Crane has received two Pushcart nominations, and has been a Rattle Poetry Prize finalist twice. She’s published three chapbooks (Zero Gravitas, Alphabetricks, and BackWords Logic) and her poems have appeared in Able Muse, Ekphrastic Review, First Things, Light, Measure, Mezzo Cammin, Think, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and Writer’s Almanac, among others. She lives near Boston and is also an artist.