Camera Obscura

Vermeer is like water, like tears.
For instance, either she is
looking right at you, or she is
by the window, intent on the scales,
pouring white milk. She is looking
at you (Vermeer has seen to that),
or she is reading the letter, she is
weighing the jewels, playing music.
Either she has been disturbed, or
she has not been disturbed at all.

Because the windows are high, and she
stands facing the windows, Vermeer
has been obliged to dress her lips,
her arms, her eyes in white,
a blessing of white. The rest
of her is plum and silk, the rest
of her is cream, the rest
of her is pearl. Vermeer
is oyster and tears.

You begin to feel that you
would like to read her letter
(she is not interrupted)
or perhaps, that you belong in it.
She knows what you feel. She is
pleased that this painting continues.

She does not become vain.
Though the more you see her,
the more you fall in love with her,
vanity is not what you have
to give. That, too, is in her letter.

Her eyes will not forget you.

Vermeer has seen to that,
in the white. He has put it there,
though it is not his to decipher.
He has painted interiors,
not the world. To him these rooms
matter most of all. The room
is in the canvas, and light
falls on it as you enter.


Published in Cumberland Poetry Review, winner of the Robert Penn Warren Award (under the title “Vermeer”)