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Gallery Talk

Gallery Talk

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

of Amsterdam.

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.


Jan 2021

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