All the God-sized Fruit

All the God-sized Fruit

SHAWNA LEMAY
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 125
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt80x0v
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  • Book Info
    All the God-sized Fruit
    Book Description:

    Shawna Lemay scrutinizes some of the best-known art masterpieces of the Western world, alerting her readers to the power and peril of seduction. All the God-sized Fruit melds the sister arts - poetry and painting - in a sensual exploration of history, forgery, and violation. In poems rich with sensory pleasure, Lemay explores the place where image and inspiration meet.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8301-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. I A THOUSAND WORDS
    • Self-Portrait: Threads from an Art Forger’s Diary
      (pp. 3-12)

      To experience beauty, truly

      one must find one’s heart.

      Reach fingers delicately

      through the space between ribs

      as though they were Venetian blinds.

      Stroke the suspicious heart

      the cold or green or unpractised heart

      like the ears of a lost dog.

      Who can say they have done this?

      Some day i will think of Penelope

      pull a thread, start the unravelling.

      But for now i efface the lines of influence.

      Bury them writhing deeply beneath snow.

      If i have been enamoured

      by the work of Vermeer’s forger, Van Meegeren

      who will know.

      I paint until my hands and heart are...

    • Doe in a Mint Green Clearing
      (pp. 13-16)

      Rachel Ruysch, 1664-1750. Not exactly

      a household name. Painter of bouquets, blossoms.

      Most men wouldn’t touch the subject with a ten

      foot pole.

      Too feminine. Too mired in detail.

      Great thoughts don’t waft from carnations, they said.

      Perhaps she wanted to paint the bodies of gods

      in white gauzy robes, damp, billowing.

      An unsuitable subject for a woman.

      She wanted to paint her own unsuitable body

      the delicate rivers stretched into her belly

      the purple tributaries on her ankles.

      She wanted to paint life and death and love,

      great tragedies, battle scenes, myths,

      the terrible weakness of beauty,

      a doe...

    • Leaves or Paper or Wood
      (pp. 17-22)

      Before allowing me to marry my King Red, Red Rex,

      my fire-haired love, Otto Modersohn

      my father sent me to cooking school in Berlin.

      Two months of blank canvas.

      A person who has had a premonition

      of her own young death

      should read every sacrifice as a sign.

      I refused to understand it

      though i knew, of course, i knew.

      I was a cage of finches

      one for each day i was there.

      Each morning i would awake

      to find one bird in the bottom

      lungs the size of stucco stones collapsed

      cold, among the paper and droppings.

      I was...

    • Edge of the Fountainebleau Forest
      (pp. 23-27)

      Fathma, let me whisper in your greying golden ear

      my lovely pet, pretty lioness

      i belong to you

      as we lie here in the gillyflowers

      and cow-chewed grass with grasshoppers.

      Tell me how does an old woman find herself

      at the edge of a forest with a lioness?

      As a girl i would go to the butcher with mother

      before she died when i was eleven

      and i remember looking at hanging plucked chickens and geese.

      In my mind i would paint their feathers back on

      or work out the motion of a leg of lamb

      piece a cow back...

    • The pink Undertones
      (pp. 28-30)

      The stickpin women come to look at us now:

      me, my sister and our niece Louysa.

      I can hear them draw their breath in

      and their shiny lips open

      as their noses move towards us discretely

      towards the pink undertones of our painted flesh.

      Sometimes i see stomach-tightening fear, self-loathing.

      Sometimes their eyes shine

      and they bite at their lower lips.

      Always, their hands are clasped tightly

      laced together behind their backs.

      And this is how i am immortalised.

      A naiad. My right arm stretched

      around my lovely sister’s back

      my left arm crooked through Louysa’s.

      I am twisted and...

    • The Drapes Floating All Around Me
      (pp. 31-34)

      I was drowning before i reached the Tiber

      water climbing the bones of my ribcage.

      I was drowning before i stood

      as i am now

      the hem of my sanguine dress sipping

      wandering in the river

      my heels in mud

      singing every crazy little song i know

      under my breath

      caught by the intricacies of reflection

      sky, trees, dress, face

      and the floating twigs and fluff.

      Below the surface fish and frogs.

      At the bottom untroubled stones.

      I was made a monster

      because no one would look at me.

      Wouldn’t reach into the current

      tangle their fingers in my green...

    • Take It Back: An Ode to Shrimp Woman
      (pp. 35-38)

      Hey, shrimp woman, peeled, de-veined.

      Hey, octopus arms, hey, side-show girl.

      Yeah, i’m talkin’ to you there

      on that chaise lounge

      you in the tasselled turban and bangles

      you with the peacock feather fan

      you lying there on Turkish blue and gold silk.

      Hey, flower fingers, wax doll, cold statue, exotic

      corpse.

      Hey, race horse, alabaster giraffe, your back’s too long

      you can’t even walk.

      Hey, platypus, swan-lady, you funny snake, lazy

      serpent.

      Are you plural, you’re shaped like a big old S.

      Part painting, part word.

      Others have called you monster, hybrid but

      i won’t.

      My little plucked peacock,...

    • A Thousand Words
      (pp. 39-42)

      It began this way.

      When he left Milan and was received here

      in the Viennese court, spring of 1562,

      i was simply the one assigned to clean his studio.

      Empty of him

      but full of a marvellous clutter —

      wooden bowls and earthen bowls and china bowls

      of fruit, twigs, moss, shells.

      Until the first time

      when i came at the end of the day

      and he was there we didn’t speak though he stared at me

      as though he could see me.

      I did my best to be unobtrusive.

      The second time, he said he was Arcimboldo,

      Giuseppe Arcimboldo. And...

    • Dead Skin Dust
      (pp. 43-46)

      Having devoured many suppers

      betrayed by each one of them

      i have come to examine the patient’s history

      its illustrious skin decaying, deciphering.

      To see time and circumstance partake ofThe

      Last Supper

      peck away at the scene of betrayal.

      It has been massaged with glues and fixatives

      painted over by clumsy hands.

      It has endured bomb blasts, wars, revolutions.

      The black smoke of candles.

      The dead skin dust of the faithful.

      Once someone tried to pry it from the wall

      assuming it was fresco

      theorizing on properties of the flesh

      without visiting the body, the head.

      Failing removal, a...

    • Even Venus Had to Learn to Love Her Face
      (pp. 47-49)

      In 1914, a woman, a suffragette

      entered the National Gallery in London

      a hatchet in her muff. In protest

      she slashedThe Rokeby Venusby Velazquez.

      Venus, goddess of beauty, goddess of love

      recumbent on black taffeta

      her back to us.

      Near the centre of the painting is a mirror held

      by Cupid.

      In the reflection, her face is blurred, illegible.

      Last autumn i stood in front of this painting.

      The damage long since sewn up, effaced.

      If you turn the canvas around

      there would be so many stitches in a row

      a tiny spine.

      Who can blame Velazquez for...

    • Ode to the Woman on the Bravo Espresso Coffee Can in Which I Store My Pens
      (pp. 50-52)

      If i weren’t so jittery

      i’d begin with a standing ovation

      clapping until my soft palms stung.

      Hollering — sensational, brilliant, bravissimo.

      If i weren’t so shaky, if my stomach wasn’t weeping

      i’d ride in on a frothy wave

      of ekphrastic exuberance.

      Describe her blue-black hair, big red-lips smile,

      her green gaping blouse, pirate earrings.

      The dainty china cup with indecipherable fleurs

      proffered on red fingernails

      more or less eternally.

      All this bordered by lemon-yellow and tomato-red.

      If i weren’t so hepped up on mud, on joe

      maybe i’d talk about John Berger

      the space between word and picture.

      The way...

    • The Captives Remain Serene
      (pp. 53-56)

      If you were to see the words

      woman in blue reading a letter

      and you were unfamiliar with the Vermeer painting

      what is conjured?

      Her jacket is Madonna blue,

      colour of sky after a divine exodus of billowy clouds.

      Colour of truth, clarity.

      Prisons walls are sometimes painted this shade of blue

      so the captives remain serene.

      The woman could be pregnant.

      Immaculate conception.

      Or, her jacket holds the memory of a distant

      fashion sense.

      The pearl is a symbol of the virgin, of light shining in

      the darkness,

      of perfection and also of love. It is the child in...

  4. II THE WORLD, GREEN AND DISARMING
    • All the God-Sized Fruit
      (pp. 59-61)

      The end of a long winter

      i write this beside French doors open to spring.

      The painting he gave me over my desk

      breeze on my bare feet

      i meditate on god-sized fruit, pomegranates.

      The philosophy of feng shui

      flows from the thinking

      that the stone pathways making up your life

      are directly affected by your everyday surroundings.

      To improve the quality of the pathway,

      smoothness of the stones, the moss there

      you must improve the space in which you live.

      The poem is a house

      and in its rooms we shove stained coffee tables,

      spacious armoires, excessive buffets

      we...

    • By the Still Life Painter’s Wife
      (pp. 62-63)

      Did Willem Kalf’s wife say

      look i have brought home this nautilus cup

      filled with light

      from my merchant brother’s house.

      On it Neptune stands on a fearsome whale head

      and below Jonah dives from the monster’s jaws.

      Or, here is a lemon carefully peeled

      rind a curling ribbon.

      And here is a lobster, darling,

      i have cleaned all the meat from it

      So you may have it in your studio

      the brilliant smooth orange-red.

      Did Chardin’s wife say

      i baked this splendid brioche today

      and trimmed it with mint leaves

      from the plant in the backyard.

      I’ll leave it...

    • Aftermath of the Still Life
      (pp. 64-65)

      After the implications

      there is the silence of decay.

      Later the stems turn water sludge-green.

      The perfume from flowers

      falls heavy into carpet fibers.

      The pears ripen in the wire bowl

      and the room fills with that, too.

      Pomegranates turn into rattles

      and weeks later

      a pumpkin lifted from the table

      is black bottomed, blown out.

      Later sangria from the jumble of fruit

      makes my head dangle, lifts my body.

      But first, there is the urge to eat

      pressing upon me.

      And the desire to restore order

      to all this kerfuffle

      to fold velvet and wind ribbon

      to chop and...

    • Detail of Tulip
      (pp. 66-67)

      In a blue velour housecoat

      my mother her sad beautiful eyes

      long ago i promised

      i would never write about her.

      I couldn’t have known

      how large the territory of love.

      Its shape unknown, uncharted.

      The source finally undiscoverable.

      My mother of the bare white walls

      has come to love certain paintings.

      To feel joy at five in the morning

      looking alone

      with her coffee in darkness

      and through the sun’s rising.

      Hair damp from the shower

      hand by the ashtray on the white table.

      Before this i was afraid imagining

      her by herself.

      But already i have said too...

    • Inventing Great Schools of Fish
      (pp. 68-70)

      The sun won’t stay for dinner

      its mid-winter manners abominable

      i sit beside glass

      looking at snow

      almost blue

      at this time of day, of year

      wait to turn on lights

      resistant to metamorphosis

      when glass becomes smoky mirror.

      The three trout Rob used in his still life

      whisked in and out

      so the house wouldn’t hold their memory

      are now simmering in a stock pot.

      Surrounded by gerbera and grapes, apples, pears

      their sleek, grey, spotted bodies

      were metallic, other-worldly

      difficult in their wholeness

      glistening in the weak, reaching

      mid-day sun

      so far away from water.

      I understand why...

    • Still Life with Greasy Noodles: A Travelogue, a Work Poem
      (pp. 71-74)

      The ship — your ocean cruiser — has docked

      and from the port bow

      you can see me through opera glasses

      on my break from the bookstore

      in the foodcourt.

      On the table a steaming plate of greasy noodles

      a copy of theQuill and Quire

      my elbow — head connected to hand.

      Take down your glasses now

      think of me at work, the bookseller.

      Too rare is the magic carpet.

      Patterned in red and yellow, green, black.

      I roll it tightly, tie it with twine.

      Gingerly holding it all the way

      to the bottom of the bag.

      But then there are the...

    • Poses of Statuary
      (pp. 75-77)

      I was Galatea then.

      Trying to re-make myself

      trying to separate who i was

      from all the forces that had breathed life into me.

      And wanting, too, to understand my roots

      to feel my body as soft marble or cool hard ivory.

      To imagine myself as ruins

      first my nose knocked off, then head, arms.

      I was Galatea,and my life had begun quietly, still.

      I was Galatea then, when i had no words

      to hold in my arms

      and i knew what Leonardo da Vinci had said:

      they do not throng from many provinces

      to the foot of the poem...

    • Out of the Sumptuous Chaos
      (pp. 78-80)

      Don’t be captivated by the postcard view

      its long exposure of white light, its fish eye.

      In the inexorable lazy jaws of this city tonight

      a woman looks out the kitchen window of her third

      story walk-up

      the view a gigantic billboard

      a waif in leather and false lashes advertises downtown

      shopping.

      On the other side — a plate of deep fried chicken

      delivered to your door in minutes.

      She stands by the fridge

      an abundance of carrot sticks and cottage cheese in

      its belly.

      She stands there consuming a box of chocolates

      loving her body in the time it takes...

    • Into the Kitchens of the Burning City
      (pp. 81-83)

      A woman prepares to set sail on an epic journey —

      a journey into the kitchens of the burning city

      into the devouring flames.

      She is girded in standard issue

      body hugging armour

      constructed of fashion magazine covers

      delicately welded together.

      Faces punched out from behind

      exist three-dimensionally.

      On the shield is her own face —

      computer altered, enhanced.

      Her neck slender, elongated, swan-like.

      She recognises only her eyes — one blue, one green.

      This one small imperfection

      overlooked.

      She has the shield and the brittle bone whistle swinging

      from around her neck. But her only weapon

      this ridiclous

      clumsy sort of beauty....

    • The World, Green and Disarming
      (pp. 84-86)

      Once there was a painter, Zeuxis.

      The painter rendered grapes so faithfully —

      the gnarled vine, the glazed violet —

      so bewitchingly, small birds would hover

      heavy with desire, their wings invisible

      and nip and peck at them.

      Once there was a painter, Zeuxis.

      In a contest with Parrhasius

      following the usual performance

      of tiny beaks, much flapping and flutter

      with aplomb Zeuxis dared his rival to withdraw

      a painted drapery.

      Oh, but these same pictures

      wouldn’t find quite so many pretty pigeons today.

      And yet we know we are all of us pigeons.

      I propose that we tell each other stories...

  5. III THE ARTEMISIA GENTILESCHI POEMS
    • Fringes of Plot
      (pp. 89-92)

      Though none have been identified, Artemisia Gentileschi was

      said to have painted still lifes of fruit.

      Painting was my heart’s first language.

      I painted before ever reading or writing

      thought in pictures before speaking.

      The knowledge carried inside the body

      in the mind becomes colour, form, shadow and light.

      Becomes pictures that can never completely

      be expressed in words.

      The way that a dream re-told flattens.

      The translator’s nightmare, this moment

      trying to coax gold into platinum, platinum into gold

      each changing from solid to liquid

      but refusing to shift from one pot on the fire to

      the next.

      I...

    • What a Woman Can Do
      (pp. 93-95)

      I was more ears than eyes

      alone in the studio at night

      touching up my paintings by candle light.

      Sometimes i would close my eyes and sing soprano.

      Feeling the darkness as Judith must have

      in Holofernes’ tent — unsure of who lurked outside.

      As an unexpected ally — an enemy turned friend.

      And i felt there my namesake, Artemis, too.

      The moon outside the small open window.

      Painting in the light of day, i would think

      i will show them what a woman can do.

      And i stole from Michelangelo and from Caravaggio.

      I went where they had gone and where...

    • A World Without Glass
      (pp. 96-97)

      Judith again, i would say.

      She came to me often in waking dreams

      i never turned her away.

      When she first came to speak to me

      i had been shattered by la donna Tuzia.

      Tuzia — family friend, neighbour.

      So simply described it is unnecessary.

      I knew i would never again have a true friend.

      When she held me in the palm of her hand

      dropped me on the floor, left me

      did she not guess i would take up the straw broom

      sweep myself into a blue glass dish.

      It was not so much the dropping as the leaving.

      I...

    • Cooked Water
      (pp. 98-100)

      My paintbrush was often betrayed

      by knife, fork and spoon, the empty dish.

      Waiting for payment

      it seemed i was always waiting, always hungry.

      I was forever almost bankrupt

      owing on a bumbling assortment of things.

      There was the high cost of models.

      I would write his most serene highness, illustrious lord

      explaining there are many kinds of beauty.

      while some would hire three models to paint nine

      women

      i could not cut such corners.

      And besides, surprisingly, these women eat too.

      There was my first daughter’s wedding.

      This sorely taxed me, broke me yet again.

      And good or bad...

    • Perspective
      (pp. 101-102)

      He was simply a man.

      Agostino Tassi. Hired by my father to teach me

      perspective.

      When he raped me

      he was a rank smelling trained bear

      green and orange striped flounce around his neck

      paws in the air

      performing his sole trick

      sluggish, sad.

      Afterwards, my quart of blood

      menstrual and virginal mingling

      on the white linen soaking into the mattress.

      What could i do but clean it up?

      I soaked the sheet in a bucket of vinegar and water.

      Watched the blood escape, pull away from the fabric.

      I looked at the red cloud in the water

      and wondered...

    • Shade Garden of Your Bones
      (pp. 103-108)

      When my eyes changed to broken glass

      and i could only see a coin’s breadth

      of the canvas at a time

      i turned it on its side, then upside down

      or looked at it in mirrors

      my back to it.

      There are moments in a life

      that slip away from sight

      like a painting does

      the weeks and days you are so close

      your eyelashes come away coloured.

      When it is sold and gone

      it flashes before your eyes

      even years later

      when you are studying pastries in a shop

      or tapping melanzane at the market.

      There are moments that...

  6. Emerald, Amethyst, Opal
    (pp. 109-110)

    Cesare Ripa writes a book

    says the allegory of painting

    is a gagged woman.

    She is wearing this, her hair like so,

    her eyebrows thus.

    Even dictates what she paints.

    Ripa says paint her so

    and they do.

    Yes, let painting be a woman.

    Let her be me.

    I look at my reflection in a mirror

    which reflects me in another.

    Painting is a woman straining to see, to know.

    I throw my whole body into this

    precarious, off-balance.

    Painting is a woman caught staring into her soul.

    I see the spirit of Caesar there.

    In sturdy shoes and a...

  7. Notes to the Poems
    (pp. 111-112)
  8. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 113-114)
  9. List of Illustrations
    (pp. 115-116)