Masque & Spectacle

2 Poems — Sheryl St. Germain


PAINTING AN APPLE

You are trying to learn to do with a brush what you have always done with words. It’s humbling, because a brush is not a pen, and you don’t yet know how to look without words.

You’ve never thought about looking for the direction of light or the cast of shadow, but now you know that these are as important as the shape of the thing you’re painting.

You try to copy the fake apple the instructor has placed in the center of the class, sketching the heart-shape of it, then plumping it out with color: light red tints on the side with the light, and darker shades, your favorites, on the side turned away from the light. The apple looks slightly schizophrenic, as if it is two apple halves smashed together, one light, the other slightly evil. You don’t quite know how to handle a smooth translation from the side receiving the light to the side living in darkness.

You add a hopeful splash of white, like a thick smile, to show a highlight. You squint, look again. The white functions as a highlight, but somehow seems false, stuck on as an afterthought, not really connected to the split apple.

You see that you have painted yourself.

***

THE APPLE UNMAKES ITSELF

I am getting better at painting the apple. Each week I work on it more, darkening one side and gradually lightening the other, painting over and reworking the highlights again and again until they look right. Finally I have something that looks somewhat three-dimensional, shadows and highlights and colors all confined within the apple shape.

But the apple doesn’t like its cage. At night it breaks out of the shape I have drawn for it, sinks into darkness, sends the lighter parts to the other side of the canvas, banishing the highlight.

***

Sheryl St. Germain’s poetry books include Making Bread at Midnight, How Heavy the Breath of God, The Journals of Scheherazade, and Let it Be a Dark Roux: New and Selected Poems. She has written two memoirs, Swamp Songs: the Making of an Unruly Woman and Navigating Disaster: Sixteen Essays of Love and a Poem of Despair. She co-edited, with Margaret Whitford, Between Song and Story: Essays for the Twenty-First Century and with Sarah Shotland Words Without Walls: Writers on Violence, Addiction and Incarceration. The Small Door of Your Death, a collection of poems, is forthcoming with Autumn House Press in 2018. She directs the MFA program in Creative Writing at Chatham University.