By Jared Carter
Configuration (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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