Drawing Whistler’s Mother

Kyle McCord Click to

Kyle McCord is the author of five books of poetry including National Poetry Series Finalist Magpies in the Valley of Oleanders (Trio House 2016). His work has been featured in The Gettysburg Review, Harvard Review, and The Kenyon Review.  He serves as Co-Executive Editor of Gold Wake Press and lives in Des Moines, Iowa where he teaches at Drake University.

After Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1, 1871 

He began in black
mimicking the Thames
frozen and dark in the locks
where the jewelweed
stilled as though wind itself
could sleep inside a portrait
without time without teasing
those green digits to life
the summer muggy
and locusts on every
damned thing

imagine the guilt of seeing
her honestly her whole body
helpless with wrath
he wanted her to look
as she did: an unforgiving
flashflood that threatens
to envelope levies
wet the walls in black mold
like the skin of a hemophiliac
where bruises command
whole flanks along the hands

her coughs were bats
in the chimney
their slack skin pattered
the studio like a weak pulse
so he learned to work diurnal
don gloves thrust
a frock over her bowed head
to conceal her landscape of moles
those final days harnessing
her like a trained oxen
a choking smell
of ether flumed the house

smothering till what could he do
but hold his nose
what wounds work this heart
these joints like raving mouths
he swore flesh alone testifies.