Well, I couldn’t think of a better title.

This came from a three-part inspiration/prompt. Donna’s Poetry Mix Tape for the week is to talk about a task that’s normally full of drudgery with reverence, and/or to use a Vermeer painting as inspiration. Coincidentally, yesterday Jane Hirshfield read a poem by Wisława Szymborska entitled “Vermeer” that was one of the most profound short pieces I’ve heard in a while:

As long as the woman from Rijksmuseum
in painted silence and concentration
day after day pours milk
from the jug to the bowl,
the World does not deserve
the end of the world.

I mean, damn, right? So I went to the fabulous Vermeer site Donna suggested and settled on “Young Woman with a Water Pitcher” for inspiration. You probably know it, even if you didn’t know the title:

I love Vermeer’s use of blue more than anything. (He is well known for using real ultramarine, that is, pulverized lapis lazuli, over other blue pigments: it cost a fortune, and was worth it.) So this is my attempt to write a Szymborska-style poem, inspired by a Vermeer painting, colored with Hirshfield’s advice about short poetry, for a daily-life-related prompt by Vorreyer. And the last two lines are a response to the 11th-century Arab woman poet, Walladah bint al-Mustakfi; her original lines were about the night being best for hiding all. That’s enough name-dropping for one paragraph.

I’ll also say this: the more I re-read this poem, the more attention I paid to each sound. The hard stops (“p”, “t”, “k” sounds) are like fishhooks that completely snag you away from the channel of consonants and must be used sparingly. And remembering Laux’s advice on rhythm, I stirred my batter thick with anapests, with iambs thrown in for flavor, topped by a  heavily-dolloped spondee. Does it all work? I’ll let you decide.


Two gifts gathered by a nymph of the rivers:
life that pours from a pitcher, and
light that pools in the window pane.
We take the most sacred things for granted
when we ought to bear them in vessels of gold.
The morning, I think, is best
for revealing them all.

12 thoughts on “Ablutions

  1. It’s that last darn word “all” that dropped me from the spell of the rest of the poem. Or maybe the last 2 words – I don’t know…
    The whole rest of the poem is lovely

  2. vivinfrance says:

    Joseph, this is the best poem of yours that I have read. Please may I save it for re-reading? I’d love to hear you reading it aloud.

  3. vivinfrance says:

    PS,Sorry, but I don’t like the title – it makes me think of military service!

  4. vivinfrance says:

    PPS did you consider putting the “and” at the beginning of the third line? I was always taught not to finish a line with a ‘weak’ word.

  5. Your poem is as lovely as the painting.

    I did this prompt as well, but it decided to go off in it’s own direction. (my poems like to do that– perhaps they need shorter leashes.)

  6. joanbarrettroberts says:

    Joseph, I love this writing! The art work, your writing notes, and insights and then to top it all off — your lovely words all in a poem!
    Wonderful, thank you!

  7. A lovely companion poem for that image.

  8. brian miller says:

    smiles…it is a rather enchanting piece…and i think we should treasure certain things…would agree with viv on putting hte and down to start the next line…i like your thoughts on the fish hooks as well…it does, just that…

  9. kelly says:

    i love it… and I think you are right about the morning light. and i actually love the title.

  10. Oh how we do take the sacred for granted. This is a lovely, brief piece that focuses on gifts and blessings and emphasizes that those with the eyes to see, will.

  11. Dhyan says:

    wonderful Joseph,

    but I think it is dawn that fits best for that..

  12. Irene says:

    Love its simplicity, which held the reader spellbound. Hmmm…brevity is nice and I must try it more often.

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