Peter Serchuk: “Lisa”


Il Signore del Giocondo has paid good money

for a portrait of his wife, so a portrait must be done.

The florins slip easily into the painter’s purse

but not so the paint on the canvas. The woman

is plain as the day is grey, her face weary from

the work of five children. Yet the painter is no fool.

He knows well what a husband seeks in a portrait is not

the wife who stands before him but the woman

she imagines herself to be, the woman they both see

in their imagination. Yet, to masquerade anything

in a beauty not its own insults the imagination of

subject and painter alike. So, the woman sits

while the painter thinks. With a mind for science,

he begins with the equation of what’s before him:

sequences of collinear points, coordinate planes and

geometric circles. Unsatisfied, he knows greater risks

must be taken. He will not place her in the room where

she sits. Instead, he sees behind her a loggia with dark,

pillar bases receding to winding paths, mountains, lakes

and forests. A destination traveled only through the dream

of the eye not the labor of feet. As for the woman,

she requires no dream: relaxed, composed, a soul at ease

in the landscape of her life—more real, the painter thinks,

than the wine in his glass. They both know a smile would

be plaster, an abomination. So, each observes the other

as subject, lets the room mingle their breaths. Together,

they share the bread of silence. Finally, it is the painter

who breaks the spell. He lowers his brush and asks,

What is it that women know about men that men will

never know about themselves? Unshaken, the woman

pauses, now certain that she is the artist and answers

with a face history will not forget.

Peter Serchuk’s poems have appeared in a variety of journals, including New Letters, Texas Review, Denver Quarterly, New Plains Review, Timberline Review, and other places. His most recent book is The Purpose of Things (2020), a collection of short poems and photographs created in collaboration with photographer Pieter de Koninck.

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