Art History, Chicago

Thomas Lynch

It’s not so much a Sunday Afternoon
on the Island of la Grande Jatte
as the point
of order according to Seurat-
that bits of light and color, oil paints
aligned in dots become the moment caught,
verbs slowed to a standstill, the life examined.
We step back wide-eyed for a better look:
an assemblage of Parisian suburbanites
in Sunday dress, top hats and parasols,
are there among the trees beside the river.
There are girls and women, men and dogs
in random attitudes of ease and leisure.
A stretch of beach, boats in the blue water,
a woman with a monkey on a leash,
a stiff man beside her, a mother and daughter,
that little faceless girl who seems to look at us.
And everyone is slightly overdressed except
for a boatman stretched out in the shade.
He smokes his pipe an waits for passengers.

But I have never been to Paris.
I’ve never holidayed beside the Seine
nor strolled with a French girl in the gray morning
as in the Paris Street, A rainy Day –
Gustave Caillebotte’s earlier masterpiece
three galleries down in this collection.

So I do not know these cobblestones, this street,
this corner this couple seems intent on turning.
But I’ve walked with a woman arm in arm
holding an umbrella in a distant city,
and felt the moment quicken, yearning for
rainfall or a breeze off the river or
the glistening flesh of her body in water
the way this woman’s is about to be
that Degas has painted in The Morning Bath.
She rises from her bed, removes her camisole
and steps into the tub a hundred years ago.

History’s a list of lovers and cities,
a mention of the wather, names and dates
of meetings in libraries and museums
of walks by the sea, or through a city,
late luncheons, long conversations, memories
of what happened or what didn’t happen.
Bur art is the brush of a body on your body,
the permanent impression that the flesh
retains of courtesies turned intimate;
the image and likeness, the record kept
of figures emergent in oil or water
by the river, in the rain or in the bath
when, luminous with love and its approval,
that face, which you hardly ever see,
turns its welcome toward you  yet again.

Thomas Lync is the author of three collections of poems, most recently Still Life in Milford (Norton, 1999). His collection of essays, The undertaking (Penguin, 1998), won the American Book Award, the Society of Midland Authors Award, The Heartland Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Award. Bodies in Motion and at Rest (W.W. Norton & Co., 2001) won the Great Lakes Book Award. Most recently, he has published Booking Passage: We Irish and Americans (Norton, 2005). He lives in Milford, Michigan.