Working Title/Artist: Young Lady in 1866 Department: European Paintings Culture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: Working Date: 1866 photographed by mma in 1993, transparency 2a (8x10) scanned by film & media 9/19/04 (phc)

Edouard Manet “Girl with a Parrot” (1866)

Amie Whittemore

Adolescent Meditation

Lying on the floor beside a cordless phone
she wishes her breasts were bigger
as if bravery amassed there—then she could
call the boy back.

On her shelves, seashells, panda figurines,
acorns. She’s read Neruda. She thinks
she knows what happens to cherry blossoms
in the rain. She swallows

fear’s salamander tail and calls the boy.
He’ll be the first to say he loves her.
And she, her body still a railing
in a stairwell no one’s passed through,

can only say it back. One day he snaps
at her little brother.
His face made wolverine, she finally believes
what he’s said about the voices

inside, the characters who share/are
his mind. She’ll believe
it was the girl voice who first kissed her,
launching her chimeric desires.

Her hair curly and red, he explained, skin
like white violets. (Her name gone
now, along with the others—seven,
he might have said?)

He composes the wolverine while she feeds
her five-year-old brother cereal
and cartoons. When she finds him returned
as if from a long swim underwater,

he says he’s sad she won’t touch him.
I wish she wouldn’t. She goes to him,
in her jean shorts, her railing body,
and runs her hands through his hair.

The light summer gray, just before rain.
She wants him to leave
but suggests a walk.
That’s a bad habit, friend.

At least they never make it as far
as the culvert that steel hole
where every stone dove
to sing its clear note.

 

Would You Rather Recover or Idealize a Lost Love?

At Travertine Hot Springs,
under the Milky Way’s white skirt,
its sequins pulling free,

my love and I drank champagne, toasting
the stranger beside us
who drove ten hours to turn

sixty in this sulfur. We sang her a song.
She spoke of the daughter she gave up,
how she had given her my love’s

name—typical hot springs enchantment
making us feel a little psychic,
more fully undressed.

Back at the Lodge, we sat on the bed
eating cheese and bread. My love asked
if she could ask a question.

I said okay. How could I—she paused, as if
deciding something—break your heart?
We had not seen each other

for seven years, so how we came to be
in a cheap motel in Bridgeport, CA
talking about love and its disasters,

well. That’s another poem.
I said I don’t know.
I think that’s what I said.

She turned away, tugging her dark slip.
We played cards, quizzed each other:
would you rather eat a dog

you loved or live alone in Alaska forever?
Would you rather pull
your own tooth or another’s?

Be violin or violinist?
She chose Alaska, I chose the dog;
she chose her tooth, I chose hers too,

and we both preferred the violin.
Eventually we slept,
my lips pressed against her neck.

 


Amie Whittemore is the author of the poetry collection Glass Harvest (Autumn House Press) and co-founder of the Charlottesville Reading Series in Virginia. Her poems have appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Sycamore Review, Smartish Pace, Cimarron Review, and elsewhere. She teaches English at Middle Tennessee State University.