Then What Is the Question?
They’ve computed the planes of her face,
which match his exactly. Leonardo painted
himself as Woman: a horse of spirit
underneath the odd bright dresses.
Love child, w ho bought caged birds to set them free.
Who wrote and wrote from right to left like Hebrew.
Who asked, why worship the son when all churches
are dedicated to the mother? South paw.
To read the writing you need a mirror,
the way you do to see your own face;
to see the back of your head, you need two.
Say cheese: look at the artist’s smile
and say cheese. Mona Lisa’s an aged Dutch gouda:
a cheese that bites back.
Eat it with beer.
Eat it with pity for simple young brie.
Eat it and figure in a painting: Outside
the landscape’s unbroken
flatness won’t hide canals and dykes.
Inside, gloves litter a checkered tile floor.
Crisp light streaks through leaded panes.
A clavier awaits a pair of hands:
brazen maiden with androgynous smile,
gay young cavalier in ruffled cuffs and feathered hat.
Walter Pater, did you know Mona as a boy?
Boys will be boys, excused of killing tadpoles
or talking back to mother. Boys as women,
at center stage; woman as Hamlet, Peter Pan.
Did Gertrude wish she were a boy? The happiest person
Alice had ever known, who referred to her as “he.”
S/he liked the Louvre but preferred to stay in bed
till noon, walk the dog, and write.
S/he owned a painting by Judith Leyster:
a woman sewing. She with a sheet of linen.
He with a sheet of paper. Genders bend
like sheets of rain or wrap like shrouds.
Alice stewed prunes in cinnamon and Rhone wine,
embroidered lingerie; her lover wrote:
You are my honey honey suckle. I am your bee.
Freud traced it all to Leonardo’s mother,
the bird of prey who suckled him.
But this bird’s a kite, with a tail
that’s forked, a tongue telling two stories.
One calls the smile of essence of the feminine,
her deceitful will to seduce.
It carries a ruler on its tip: condemned
to always come up short.
The other is sharp as a boy’s trick,
deflating art’s high balloon
with a prick. Crashing the party,
declaring it a bore:
Elle a chaud au cul.
Remember the tail, said Freud.
She’s got hot pants, she’s hot to trot, her tail’s hot,
that’s no why she’s smiling, is it?
To burn always with this hard, gemlike flame.
Tradition’s a prison, groaned Duchamp, in drag:
RRose Selavy. A million bees make a pound of honey,
and all for one queen. That’s not art, roared Teddy R.
The mirror’s slivered into shards,
the smile’s a trace; Alice might have shaved.
Gerty’s deathbed words:
Then what is the question?
Natasha Sajé’s first book of poems was Red Under the Skin (Pittsburgh, 1994) and her second book was Bend (Tupelo Press, 2004). Her work has been honoured by the Campbell Corner Poetry Prize and the Robert Winner Award from the Poetry Society of America. Her poems, essays, and reviews appear in The Gettyburg Review, The Kenyon Review, New Republic, Parnassus, Shenandoah, and The writer’s Chronicle, among others. Sajé teaches at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, and in the Vermont College MFA in Writing program.