Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Death in the Reeds

Ophelia floats downriver
as white petals spread along the cutbank.
Wanting to see the water real, the artist posed his model in a bathtub seeking
to place her likeness
ripe on the canvas, yet he complained of the flies emerging from haystacks,
how they haunt flesh better than his touch with oils.

And if you attend to her mouth that has been left open
for singing . . . what? The silence on her lips for close
to two centuries holds a taste like stale bread or the scent of sleep
like a fine incense
slipped into the garland of poppies, its static red
a painted stillness.

Around Ophelia the overgrown style of grasses and petals never decay
and one tangle of brushstrokes
reveals a skull, and if you look back into the shadows
mistaking them for eyes,
they look out from the painting, not down at the body, until you believe
the artist must have known

you would be standing here years later, alone or among a crowd
and, seeing the overlapping blades of grass,
find death hidden and unmistakable and wonder how it has waited

for you on the bank for so long. It is all so unforgiven, so
romantic. And the woman in the painting floats a little longer, looking up
far beyond the wood framing the canvas.

You know she must sink—though you’ll be long gone
into what you’ll remember of her eyes
looking out onto that last minute forever.  

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