after 'Lady Writing a Letter With Her Maid'
by Johannes Vermeer
I used to hide each message
within the bodice of my dress
until it became a heartbeat.
And so he filtered himself across
but when he stood in front of me at last,
all red-black and decorated, I knew
I had viewed him from behind a curtain.
Something fell off a ledge inside me.
Now the pages are still surging
out of him, with words bumping together
and penstrokes ever darker:
a woman can drown in that language.
He has delivered the latest one in person.
Cornelia brings it up. She appears
more damp than usual; all that creeping
through night for me - and also for him.
She gazes towards the window.
I hardly need to peep to know
the pale half-disc of his face is waiting
down there. Even his silence is not quiet.
I do not wish to squeeze inside the life
he has in mind, or stay the same size
for ever. Crumpling his letter, I discover
the hard white knot of my fist.
I take a fresh piece of paper.
Light catches the fine line of my quill.
A Mother's Precaution