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By Jared Carter

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(Glen Cooper Henshaw, American impressionist,
was born in Windfall, Indiana, in 1880 and 
died in Baltimore in 1946)

What I first knew of a life of art
was what he touched last -- the summer studio
where I was allowed to wander as a child
through high-ceilinged rooms, up stairways
lined with tapestries unraveling: bronzes
gathering dust, wrought candlesticks, rows
of Chinese vases, the August light shuttered
like strands of Aunt Carolyn's uncombed hair,
the huge easels with their unfinished seascapes,
the closets thick with stacks of pastels
where mice made burrows, and damp seeped.

Beginning there, at the last turn
of the stairs, at the view of the Salute
by moonlight, in its great gold frame –
beginning with the packets of letters,
the yellowed clippings, the photograph
with the calico cat perched on his shoulder –
I followed him from farm, school, bistro,
through the sketchbooks of Market Street
and the Lower East Side, the pushcarts
and railroad flats, the life classes
in the blue cold of the old Academy rooms
in Munich, the boat trains to London,
the first commissions and sittings,
the laughter in the salons, the bare shoulders
of the soprano who stands beside the piano,
the young women with braided, coiled hair
lifting their skirts as they come up the stairs,
the afternoons wandering among the bookstalls,
the cafe conversations with Matisse –

all this rippling from a single stone –
and the force that carried it gone, leaving
only the slow parchment whispering
of old voices in nursing-homes, recollections
of places where they met and talked, seances
around an oak table, a picnic at Fontainebleau,
the crowds in Maxwell Street before the War.
Gradually the surface resumes a smoothness:
second wife buried, paintings knocked down
and scattered, studio burned, each letter
traced, each name marked off, finally
only the quiescence of paperwork – index cards
and conjectures, learned comparisons, polite
notes of inquiry from graduate students,
the curator's handwritten invitation for brandy,
spools of microfilm humming in the machine.

What I first perceived, then, wandering alone
among those vanished rooms; what I last
have come to understand, having followed
that trajectory even as it began to merge
with my own: the face in the photograph, taken
when she left Boston to come to him
on the Rue Monsieur-le-Prince
in the springtime of that fresh year,
that new century.  Her long auburn hair
enveloping that nakedness, the purl
of gas jets turned down in the hallway,
the bell curve of the lamp chimney
by the bed, the swirled perfection
of her sleeping: the configuration
of time, of love, of youth, of art
like an elaborate watermark visible
only when held up to the light.

(First published in University of Minnesota Research)


Jared Carter’s most recent collection, The Land Itself, is from Monongahela Books in West Virginia. His Darkened Rooms of Summer: New and Selected Poems, with an introduction by Ted Kooser, was published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2014. A recipient of several literary awards and fellowships, Carter is from the state of Indiana in the U.S.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

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