Rembrandt f 1630
In that post-stamp square of daubed ink,
one really has to squint close before
air breathes through thick etchings
and tousles the lines to moving hair,
before the thatched crosses furrow into brows
and arch the eyes and the whites wide open,
and the puckered lips unpress for a second
of supple, breathless shock.
The young apprentice rushes back
to studio, volt-face along the Herengracht,
weaving through the Koornbrug grain stalls
over the bridge, where turning to look,
a fresh breeze brushes by the canal
into the face of a young man
catching his breath, in Leiden.
Rembrandt f 1640
The oils are smooth on canvas,
and from shades of yellow ochre
lead white carmine lake skin blends
to warm flesh, scratched paint
bristles in the fur collar to touch,
the warm velvet plush against cold silk
folds that waterfall down the elbow
spray bold over the bannister –
foreshortened cool, just like Titian, actually.
And that rakish up-turned Italian beret
that they wore down South more than a century ago
can only mean one thing. But playing
with shade half-veils a face, and paint
melts behind the eyes, behind
the ailing wife and house empty
of two children, in the fashionable
Sint Antoniesbreestrat at the heart
Rembrandt f 1669
Same pallet, but the eyes are heavier,
earthier, richer perhaps, sagging
under loaded brush swirls and mud beige.
Skin is coagulated paint
wrinkled, blemished, blotched, lathered
thick on the forehead, almost as heavy.
The brush spares nothing of hard ground linseed
and coats on coats of walnut oil.
The old Duke still paid a visit to the studio
last year, but Titus left the next
and everyone is gone. Soon they’ll bring me
under the Oudekerk to sleep
in an unmarked grave. How strange will it be
to then look across the room and see
myself at thirty-four when I am sixty-three,
and think in all that space between the two
is nothing but air and hushed whispers,
and also a little paint.