Signora Gioconda Tires of Sitting for the Master

Grace Bauer

Once, after dinner, my husband
was speaking – of business,
some prediction of weather – I forget –
I was lost in a thought of my own –
but I recall his anger,
how it flared when he saw me
not quite there. He struck me then
and cursed my stupid grin,
yet now he squanders gold to have you
make a likeness of it. Oh, he cares
little for art or me, but he knows
of your renown and desires
a token of it – a well-wrought
adornment to grace his empty wall.

He will approve of the way you have
composed me – the demurely folded
arms, barely visible veils,
the muted tones of my garments –
which will go well with his favourite chair.
The size he’ll find convenient,
easy to hang in that perfect niche
where his friends will notice and admire –
will it be me or you?

But the expression you have given me,
I fear that may annoy him. He’ll wish
I looked more dignified, closer to his
Image of the proper noble’s wife.
He’ll imagine it’s another
of my daydreams that lies behind
the distance in my eyes.
I tell you this to ease the hesitation
I see in yours, the trembling
in your fingers when you rearrange
my hair. I think you, too, feel this
portrait may be more than mere commission.

If my husband asks, I will tell him
of the minstrels you employed to entertain
and keep me still, of the pretty boys
who mill about the studio, eager
to satisfy your every whim, of the smell
of turpentine and oil that permeates
the rooms, the light that streams through
each window, as if you had drawn it there.
He will never question these stories,
though he will never understand
how little such stories explain.

Though he may be astute enough to recognize
that something has been captured here,
he will never name exactly what it is.
He’ll call it cunning, mystery, bemusement –
let him call it what he will.

Forget about your patron, your boys,
the whole damned world. The peaks
you’ve sketched in the distance may
be where love will take us.
Pour some wine, dear Leonardo.
Admit your work is good. Come and lie down
with this legend you have made.

Grace Bauer’s work has appeared in numerous anthologies and journals, including Arts & Letters, Doubletake, Georgia Review, Poetry, Southern Poetry Review, and many others. Her books include The Women at the Well (Portals Press), Field Guide to the Ineffable: Poems on Marcel Duchamp (Snail’s Pace Press, 1999), Where You’ve Seen Her (Penny Whistle Press, 1993), and The House Where I’ve Never Lived (Anabiosis Press, 1993). She is the coordinator of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.