Thursday, September 30, 2010

September 30th

This is the last day. I am not ready for this to be over, and yet I am. Tonight I will attend a Gaslight Anthem concert, wake up leisurely in the morning, write in the afternoon at Four and Twenty Blackbirds (they have the most excellent pie) with Jacob and attend a New Yorker Festival panel involving Dave Eggers. Nowhere in that equation will I have to attend the Met, I will in no way be obligated to post anything on the internet. Although on Saturday I will be back at the Met with my friend Fawaz, who is visiting from California. I am going to be missing the Met already by then, I suspect.

Today was uneventful. I arrived early just as things were opening up. The Museum had very few visitors but there was a fair amount of staff moving and dusting pieces.  I walked around a bit, spending most of my time in Arms and Armor (where there is no seating, unfortunately) before writing in the medieval section.

Sakura (Prunus serrulata)

You laugh uptown. The man
we only know about now,
by your side with his American smile.
The white of teeth from a mid-teen bleach.

In photographs you are altered, 
no longer my twin by sight,
in that bed, hair shaved. 
eyes narrowed from lack of sleep.

Day of the Week: Thursday
Occupancy of the Museum: Empty
Arrived at: 9:30
Departed at: 10:45
Read on Commute: Finished Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath which I recommend.  

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Not to reduce a poetry project to numbers but here are some numbers that are relevant to this project. I had many readers from 12 different countries,  17 states, and 3 provinces.

Notebooks: 3
Average number of poems written per day: 4
Percentage of time the first poem I wrote was the one I posted: 50%
Average time spent on commute each day: 2 hours
Guest Writers: 16
Number of Met ticket/pins collected: 27
Amount of time spent on writing the blog entry each day: 30 Minutes
Average amount of time spent on this project each day: 5 hours

September 29th

Tomorrow is my last day at the Met.  I will return there and write, I may even post those poems but I will never again visit the Met on a daily basis. As thrilled as I am to have some more free time and less of a commute I must say this saddens me. This experiment has been successful and far more enjoyable then I expected, due in part to creative blessings, the Met itself, and the many lovely guest writers.

Today I went to the Japanese portion of the Asian wing. It was quiet, peaceful, and empty.

Five Miles to the Nearest Town

It was not a devastation
for us. No hammock vanishing husband,
or mid lake misplacement of our sons.
The house, bricks interconnected
and standing, three stories tall.

Of course we lost the stars,
but we had this luxury of space,
of still surrounding ourselves with my grandmothers
books and his fathers hunting riffles.

At first the boys left only for a day
up river, some camping trips,
normal for their age, this wild country.

Then it was weeks and they'd come
home uncomfortable in clothes,
barefoot, dark, pleased by grime.

Now, I sometimes hear footsteps
on the floor above me, wish it to be them,
but I see only the clothes, the book's,
a quilt they left behind, a year ago now.

Day of the Week: Wednesday
Occupancy of the Museum: Moderately busy
Arrived at: 12:30
Departed at: 1:45
Read on Commute: Rouges Gallery by Michael Gross, which is an unauthorized, controversial book on the history of the Met. So far I am not impressed.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

September 28th

On Friday Hossannah and I drifted into the Robert Lehman collection, a hodge podge of European decorative arts, Goya, El Greco, Botticelli Impressionism, post impressionism, enamels, and bronze. I had been there before, when part of the Atrium had been taken over for a special exhibit, however I had never ventured further in. I was a little surprised by the tone of the section, it is much less polished then the rest of the museum, and there really is no centralizing theme.  After doing a little digging I discovered that the  Lehman foundation donated close to 3,000 works of art to the museum and that his wing is supposed to feel like a museum within a museum. It is supposed to evoke the interior of Lehmans townhouse, and reflects his personal taste preferences. When it first opened the Lehman wing received mix reviews. 

I wrote on a sofa that would have seemed more at home in Starbucks and I must say it was a lot more comfortable then the standard issue Met bench. I could not help but notice that the vast majority of the visitors to this section were Eastern European tourists.

Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)

Next to the stone,
        a paper crane, gifted
        folds, indented finger prints,

a signature felt by the palm of my hand,
      ledge of window,  light
      touches objects, grants them
      a momentary gold.


Day of the Week: Tuesday
Occupancy of the Museum: Not very Busy
Arrived at: 9:30
Departed at: 11:00
Read on Commute:  Cider House Rules (better) by John Irving, and Made to Stick (good) by Chip and Dan Heath

Monday, September 27, 2010

September 27th

 Since I came up with this project in July, a certain friend has been saying that one of the Monday's at the Met better be rainy so that I would have to write outside underneath an umbrella. I teased back that if that happened he would have to come with me and hold the umbrella while I wrote. Today it rained. All day. However I did not carry through with my threat and I wrote outside on a wet bench all on my own. I checked an hourly forecast before I left and so had scheduled my writing period to coincide with what was supposed to be the least rain filled part of the day. It really wasn't that bad at first just a little drizzle, although by the time I left it had worsened.

Kingdom Without a Monarch 

The Midtown fog
has developed feelings
for the Plaza, 

affection for the Central
Park Zoo. Pigeons pass
the Met, dip beaks into puddles.

Ladies do not come out
in the rain. Watch it
through binocular's,
order a cab.

Day of the Week: Monday
Weather: Rainy
Arrived at: 3:00
Departed at: 4:00
Read on Commute:  Cider House Rules by John Irving (improving, maybe?)

September 26: Lane Falcon

My dear friend Lane Falcon is in her final year at Sarah Lawrence in poetry although she's managed to cover a fair amount of fiction as well. Her poem and observations follow.

Jackson Pollack’s  “Autumn Rhythm”
To him, to live
was to be entwined— to stand outside
that nest of rusted wire
was to die. 


As usual, lovely to see Caitlin, with whom I can talk in tongues about art and poems and people. Going to The Met made me want to get fired from my job and collect unemployment for a few months, like my sister. If only we were allowed to drink coffee in there, it would be the perfect place to hibernate. I almost ran over a couple of little old ladies but that’s nothing new and luckily no one cursed me. Caitlin seems very at home among the sculptures and canvases and, at the same time, tentative, respectful. I’ve never been so close to a Pollack painting, I don’t think. Just prior to us sitting down, I’d been telling Caitlin how I never really thought of Pollack paintings as visceral, despite something I read recently that compared his painting to the poems of Sharon Olds. His stuff always seemed so abstract to me in comparison to Sharon Olds’ version of urgency. Sitting there, though, I kept thinking how art is a metaphor for the artist’s perception of the world (duh!) and how immediate and seething his painting is. Not every emotion has a perfectly carved image to represent it. I think, in poetry, this sort of effect can be likened to the use of diction, music as opposed to image. Music is as immediate as image, right, as far as plucking at the soul strings (pun intended, but only after realizing it was there)?

September 24: Hossannah Asuncion

Hossannah Asuncion, brought a recorder with her when she went the Met. Hossannah interviewed various people about their relationship to specific pieces of art and she had some interesting perspective overlap, and developing trends. Not on the specific work of art but on people's interaction with art in general. She combined these interviews with photo's and the creative process to create the following images. Click on the images to make them larger. Her observations are included bellow.


Going on Day 24 of this project made me feel the pressure of all the great work produced on the days before mine. What made me especially wary was the fact that I don't feel like I know how to write poetry right now--I'm reading and creating things with my hands, but not writing, per se.

I decided to interview people at the MET. I thought I could ask what piece of art inspired someone to become an art lover...but consistently people could not identify a specific piece of art that started her love affair with art. Instead, a pattern arose (from a very small sample) of people engaging with art in very real ways, people spoke of the 'character' of a tapestry, or the 'personality' in the portrait. Art isn't just material or object; they are living things that make us feel real emotions.

Hossannah Asuncion invites you to witness her tumbling

Sunday, September 26, 2010

September 26

I met Lane Falcon a dear friend and Sarah Lawrence poet at the steps today. Tom Lux once said that Lane Falcon is the perfect name for a poet, and who am I to disagree?

We had a lovely time wandering. Lane touched a sarcophagus and the guard was nice about it. We ended up in the Modern Art section, which was not too busy today, but I still somehow found it hard to write.

We Lift

all these words to you
and still are left
wanting more seeds,
more rosemary, more cadmium.

The garden grows zucchini
into a jungle for squirrels,
and I keep finding dirt clad children
digging for potatoes.

We need squash for soup,
for a winter of prayer, 
of waiting. For others. 
For order? The return of you?

Day of the Week: Sunday
Occupancy of the Museum: Busy
Arrived at: 2:30
Departed at: 4:00
Read on Commute:  Cider House Rules by John Irving, and Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath

September 25: Jessica Ankeny

Jessica Ankeny is a gifted poet in her second year at Sarah Lawrence. Her poem and observations from her writing time in the Musical Instruments section of the Met are below. 

The Reason Sound-Makers Go Behind Glass and We Look at Them, No, We Just Walk Past

It comes in bright
bright color sound, like curly, like desire for your body,
like my body, anybody
to play play play, smells like red, no, sounds like turquoise, don’t
know sound of horns on gourd, should thank
spiral, thank animal, thank reaching, horn? look ma! pulled
pipes from ‘neath the kitchen sink
please blow on it, I blow goat heads, I speak swollen, I envy
horny toad heart, I have
horny toad heart, I sing ragweed, I sound dragon,
I strung so tight my strings disintegrate, need to play need need
to sound like sound barrier, drum like whiskey, close your sing, no, close
your sing, no, sing metal, sing dust
removal, sing strung voice disintegration, smell no tune, no
tuning, how right note with no right tuning? push sound
with elbows, no, push the pep
pep mushing, no, open the carpet, pinch glass ‘till it screams—
there’s music inside, it’s there.


  It was a great pleasure to see Caitlin for the first time since she graduated. There is something about the MET, about looking at things meticulously maintained under glass, which encourages a formality and a referential nature in conversation. I like that. I also liked how our conversation changed while we were in the subway.
            We went first to the textiles hall or basement or dungeon or whatever, but even the doorbell won’t get you in on Saturdays.  I ended in the hall of Old World international instruments.  Caitlin was in the room of near-modern western instruments.  For a reason I can’t place there was one wicker chair in the middle of each hall. We respectively took the chairs. Caitlin’s room (I blame Ringo’s drum) was busier then mine. As I wrote I became more upset that these beautiful instruments, many of which were used in sacred rituals, were just sitting behind glass. What good is an instrument not played? Does a sacred object loose its sanctity if it’s not in use? If an object is not fulfilling the purpose of its creation is it really worth looking at? I don’t know. I am undecided if the information gleaned from viewing objects outside their context is even true. Sure, seeing a gourd with antelope horns coming out of it and strings wound tight between the horns is pretty cool. But saying something is cool without knowing what it sounds like, or what it was used for exactly, distorts any meaning it might have had. It lessens the sanctity of the object. Doesn’t it? I don’t know. Does it even matter? I think so, but even as I write this I make plans to go back and see those textiles.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

September 25th

Today I met the Jessica Ankeny on the steps of the Met. She is a charming poet and a Sarah Lawrence student.

She is also a frequent Met visitor and so we discussed various locations as we wandered.  She initially wanted to write in the Medieval Weapons section but unfortunately it lacked benches. However we found our way to the rather peaceful Musical Instruments section which is currently home to a gold drum owned by Ringo Starr. The range of international instruments found in this section is extraordinary.

The Mistress of Vanishing

I've always kept a key
beneath my tongue,
a lock pick
spit glued to foot.
My hair contains faint
traces of cyanide.

I traveled north
after the flood,
no Cathedral spires
remained, just lonely
office buildings.

I left for the memory of cities,
Seattle, Tacoma, Vancouver.
Surely there would be no
blue uniformed guards sitting
in booths at the border?
Though now I find even
the thought reassuring.

Day of the Week: Saturday
Occupancy of the Museum: Very Busy
Arrived at: 5:00
Departed at: 7:20
Read on Commute:  Cider House Rules by John Irving (slow going today).

September 24

For the first time since this project began I actually have taken advantage of the 24 hour rule. I didn't leave the Met till 7:15 last night and chose, instead of rushing home and posting, that a nice quiet evening could be had.

I met the well dressed Hossannah Asuncion on the steps near a food cart named Cake&Shake.

We wandered around European Sculpture Court, paintings, the Kahn special exhibit, ending with Big Bambu. Hossannah was interviewing people, which was one of the reasons we traveled so much. It was such a great idea, she brought a recorder and asked questions about art, and connection to it.

Edited to Remove Poem: A revised version of this poem has since been published elsewhere. I apologize for the inconvenience.

Day of the Week: Friday
Occupancy of the Museum: Packed
Arrived at: 4:40
Departed at: 7:10
Read on Commute:  I finished The Structure of Magic (which was an excellent examining of language and therapy) by Richard Bandler and John Grinder, and A Week at the Airport by Alain De Botton (very disappointing). I just started Cider House Rules by John Irving (a favorite author of mine), it is pretty good so far.

September 21st: Aldina Vazao Kennedy

Aldina Vazao Kennedy, is a fellow Sarah Lawrence graduate, a non fiction writer who devoloped an  interest in and talent for poetry. Her poem follows.

Afterlife Accounting at the Met
My people are North Atlantic but my magnet
spins South. I taste oranges, almonds, pungent
olive oils, and cheese squeezed from goats.
Egypt is Mediterranean too. Before Romans cut
roads through my home, pharaohs stored pots,
faceted rocks, and godly symbols. They traveled heavy.
At the Met, all I see means death
and how to survive. Afghani lapis lazuli chains
enclose necks, fingers, and arms--fit for Kings’ men.
When guards look away, I touch something sacred.
Who carves himself
into temples? Dendur, Tikal. Theocharis 1899. Kheper 1936.
“Dung beetles push the sun into being.”
Afraid I’ll forget, I take pictures.
In Antigua, I heard campesinos and señoras
thank the Virgin and pay

promises, and hoard prayers and humiliations suffered.
Faith alone won’t save us.

Languages are invented for accounting. Linear scripts.
Grandmother notes 66 bible pages read.
Mother contracts salvation with tear-dropped coins.
They hang scapulars from their necks.
Forty years of hard spousal service earns
how many coupon-books for Heaven?

Father doesn’t talk sense.
Plaques tangle neural pathways.

He doesn’t remember tomorrows
and stores rocks to cobble our driveway.
He records with marble and white stone.
Ellis 56. The rest he lays with asphalt and tar.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sepember 23

Today I visited the special exhibit, The World of Khubilai Khan, currently open only for a members preview. Khubilai was the grandson of Chinggis (better known in the west as Ghenghis) Kahn.

The Met does not usually allow photographs in Special exhibits but I did not see any signs up when I went in so I took one photo, and no one complained. While I was taking the second photo one guard (apparently a senior one) asked if photos were allowed, very loudly and apparently rhetorically. Another replied that during the members preview it should be fine.

I immediately put away my cell phone, nod in their direction to acknowledge that I had heard them. One of the guards nodded back.  As I walked into the next room, the senior guard said to me across the room "no photos in the special exhibit." In response, I said "I'm sorry."

I started writing in the next room on a bench. The light was poor but I was right in front of a beautiful wooden Arhats (a guardian). The senior guard entered the room and loudly informed the female guard that photos were not allowed, and then shot a scowl in my direction.

The guard in the room had a wonderful smile and read all the descriptions of the artifacts.

(Apologies: Poem removed due to publication elsewhere)

Day of the Week: Wednesday
Occupancy of the Museum: Empty
Arrived at: 9:30
Departed at: 10:40
Read on Commute: The Structure of Magic by Richard Bandler and John Grinder, and A Week at the Airport (about being the writer in residence at the Heathrow Airport) by Alain De Botton.

September 22: Mellisa McCarter

Mellisa a fellow Sarah Lawrence poetry graduate, was a pleasure to write with and I very much enjoyed her ideas about various pieces throughout the museum. Her poem and observations are below.

Photo Credit due to the John Singer Sargent Gallery

The Wyndham Sisters, 1899
                  (A Portrait by John Singer Sargent)

We always have flowers at hand
to make company more pleasant,
removed before they die
at the first sign of browning.
So why is Mother in the background
if not to remind us of our own mortality?
The painter saw only what he meant to see,
blanched the peonies and compared us to gardenias
by applying his salve to our complexions.
Pamela didn’t trust him to overlook her maternal waist,
not with the evidence behind us on the wall.
Madeleine, impatient and a little bored,
the shadows were left on her face.
I saw opportunity right away,
gave the canvas all of my youth
with a look that said beneath this skirt
are legs that could strangle a man.
Though, looking back I’m not so sure
if we weren’t a portrait of death to be
rising from a chiffon vapor.

Trying to explain to a friend a quote by E. L. Doctorow, “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia,” I found it difficult to explain the voices that creep into the writer’s head without sounding like a lunatic myself. But, anyone who has written while viewing art will understand exactly what this means.

I find that one of the best tricks to jumpstart these voices is to go to an art museum and write. There’s something about seeking out a narrative that’s not your own or an image that breaks you out of a daily pattern and puts you into the realm of the unordinary.  It frees the voice within—or gives you a borrowed voice with which to stir the pen. Even an empty room at The Met teems with voices and characters from the imagination. Just as yoga releases energy from stretching the body,  art releases the dormant mind.

The Met was a wonderful place to start writing as it houses more than paintings.  I found that it was easy to write once I sat down.  Moving about, my eyes preferred to sponge up everything for later. I chose to write an ekphrasis rather than just free-writing, eager at the moment to explore the mysteries of detail in “The Wyndham Sisters” by John Singer Sargent. I found a lot going on in the portrait just by their expressions alone.

Thirty days is about what you need to really appreciate everything that the Met has to offer.  I tried to take in as many rooms as I could just before I left mid afternoon.  I could imagine how odd I looked bouncing from room to room, pausing here and there and scribbling a note or two for future poems, but otherwise scanning as much as I could take in before my departure.  Brilliant idea, Caitlin.  Thanks for the great time.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

September 22

The first day of fall was rather warm and sunny, but the trees are starting to hint at the season. I met Mellisa McCarter on the steps. She and I have been friends since sharing a class together in our first year at Sarah Lawrence, she is both a gifted poet and a kind person.

We entered and wandered until we found a comfy looking circular couch in the Henry J. Heinzil Galleries. We were surrounded by lovely paintings. It got distractingly crowded around 11:30. I could not help but notice everyone's shoes. One woman was wearing a pair of high heel sneakers. An Asian couple photographed themselves having a fake nap on the couch one room over.

Today I wrote a number of poems but the only one I am pleased with is a monstich (a one line poem)

Still Life with Octopus

If only it would stop juggling the plums.

Day of the Week: Wednesday
Occupancy of the Museum: Not too bad when we entered but crowded by the time I left.
Arrived at: 10:00
Departed at: 12:15
Read on Commute: I finished I am the Messenger by Markus Zusack (OK) and Thunderstruck by Larson (also mediocre).

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

September 21st

Today I had two guest writers, Aldina Vazao Kennedy who holds her MFA in non-fiction but dabbles well in poetry, and Melanie Olson a fiction writer working on a novel about Mormons.

Melanie and I both brought laptops which caused my second run-in with MET security. This time we both needed passes (a yellow ticket with words scribbled on it) for our laptops. I did not know that this was necessary since this is the first time I brought my laptop.  You also cannot coat check bags with laptops.

The Temple of Dendur was our destination. Yesterday through the windows Jacob and I had seen them setting up something. We had presumed that this was for some sort of celebration that night. Today the temple was off limits. You could only view it from a distance and it was clear that they were setting something up for tonight.

We ventured upstairs to the Chinese Garden to write in some natural light. Melanie was the first project participant to write on her laptop.


Unknowing twins
in purple, a flash
of crow above us,

shadow through glass
on the living
room floor.

Day of the Week: Tuesday
Occupancy of the Museum: Moderately busy.
Arrived at: 12:30
Departed at: 2:40
Read on Commute: I am the Messenger by Markus Zusack

Monday, September 20, 2010

September 19th: Stephen Pause: Essay

Stephen Pause, a non fiction SLC graduate student and friend wrote the following essay and observations, and I am so glad he did. He also posted this on his excellent blog Teratology, he has more photo's included in his version. I had a few formatting issues. The essay is titled Never My Madam

Photo courtesy: (all others by S. Pause)

First she was just a figure moving toward me in the distance, among a great many others doing the same thing. A second later she was a girl. Then she became a pretty girl, exquisitely dressed. Next a responsive girl, whose eyes said “Are you lonely?,” whose shade of a smile said, “Then speak.” And by that time we had reached and were almost passing one another…
-- Cornell Woolrich, Manhattan Love Song

I went to see war. I went for the ugliness of the world; I had no use of for the beautiful things. I wanted death as my muse. I wanted to see George Washington Crossing the Delaware River, on his way into glorious battle. I wanted to contemplate history made through bloodshed, to ponder world changing loss of life. I had a satchel full of history books, war tactics and personal accounts of ensuing skirmishes, and I planned to write about how much the artist got wrong, how disparate his art was from reality. And I would have been content with this day-long meditation on how art just could not compare to the actuality of the harsh world. But unbeknownst to me, fate had conspired otherwise. 
Washington’s river crossing was mysteriously absent, nowhere to be seen. It had been hidden away in some darkened vault beneath my feet, stowed in an ark to be shown to someone else at some later time. It wasn’t meant for my eyes. But what else was there to see in such a place if not the pinnacle of military strategy, a defining battle in a nation’s history?
The question was left to foment while I began to wander aimlessly in search of some new, insufficient substitute for inspiration. I didn’t even have the motivation to move to another wing, so I meandered through America, slowly contenting myself with the notion that I would accomplish nothing, the idea of failure festering into a desire to abandon that forlorn place forever. 
 But then, lost amidst the forgotten faces on a quiet floor reserved only for storage, an epiphany.
She appeared to me in all her radiance.
The inward curve of her waist, the sweep of her hips, those petite lips rouged to life against a snow white complexion and a dress so starkly black. And that delicate neckline.
That seducingly long and delicate neckline.
What was she doing there, mingling with former presidents amongst the Tiffany glass and antique furniture? Had she retreated to the storage room to seek refuge from prying eyes? If so, she had largely succeeded. As I stood there in awe, an entire group of people, more than twenty strong, committed the crime of simply passing her by, only one or two stopping for even a cursory glance.
An “Oh my,” from a woman who didn’t even break stride, prompting a question from her bespeckled and graying husband, who himself continued a slow amble past. 
“Somebody you know?”
A moment later I could hear the echo of their guide from a distant corner of the hall.
…And that neckline – her hair pulled as high as it will go, revealing every possibly inch of that majestically contoured nape. The subtlety of the pose – her right hand reaching to the back of the Empire table to keep her steady – naturally accentuating her most feminine attributes, extending effortlessly the line of succession from irresistible neck to slightly dipping and wholly exposed shoulder to smoothly bent arm to slender thumb pressed against dark wood, and all with a skin so pure a complexion that she barely seems alive. Pure as the driven snow, indeed.
Truly a modern woman by any standards: deeply sophisticated in expression yet simply elegant in dress. That dress, the bodice tapering her inconceivably lithe waist, her hips boldly flaring out, all at once showing her as petite and imposing. The abysmal blackness of it, swallowing the features of her lower half, her legs lost amid the velvety softness of the elegant garment whose own features appear only faintly. They don’t matter. Neither do her shoes, or whatever is in her hand. Is that a fan that blends in so perfectly, or do her delicate fingers simply cling to her dress below the waist? She is either pulling it up alluringly, or perhaps practically, to keep her feet from becoming entangled in the flowing fabric.
And what to make of that expression? Is she turning her cheek away from a lover, spurning his desperate advance?  Is it a devilishly scornful disaffection of a kiss not wanted, or a melancholy sadness that there is no one there to kiss? Perhaps she is gazing at the three-paneled Tiffany dressing curtain in the adjacent display case, an oddity to her as it won’t be produced until thirty years into her future.
Perhaps her look is disguised – a glance away – a bashfulness to prevent blushing caused by the stoic timepieces staring at her from across the aisle. The six grandfather clocks are fragile old men; by the time she comes into the world they are already eighty years old. Yet each one knows beauty when they see it. Each has stopped at the exact same moment, their faces – the hands of time – frozen in her presence, acknowledging her beauty the only way they know how. Their lunar cycles too are not simply frozen, but shaken out of their synchronicity; the old face from Reading, Pennsylvania, has thrust its moon into mid-sky while the smirking orb from Norwich, Connecticut, is just beginning to rise from its corner of the clockface. Her pull is strong enough to shift the tides. 

Another group of people stops briefly a few feet away and breaks the silence. The guide mentions a name – Eakins – as the greatest painter to come out of America. Suddenly the Madame appears to look away with distaste – she banishes such a thought. She knows John Singer Sargent is the greatest. The look on her face is more than enough to convince me.
As the group passes, again ignorant to the beauty they are dismissing, one of them stops, only to thrust a barb tinged with malice at the nameless Madame.
The old woman’s mumbling trails off from beneath her hunched back as she passes. She stresses the final two words, slowly.
“This is very famous. Terrible scandal…”
The Madame barely acknowledges the comment, looking away as if to mockingly ignore the old woman. The ill-mannered quip falls on a deaf ear – a perfectly sketched lobe on a woman too dignified to pay the comment any mind.
             All of this and yet she stands naked – no frame to give her comfort – the scene incomplete. Perhaps that is why her expression is one that borders on fretting. The woman next to her, the Lady with the Rose, displays a beautifully ornamented frame, a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables, gilded gold in a subconscious display of fertility. The Lady with the Rose is also fetching to the eye, but with a youthful nonchalance, a childish air. She daintily holds her rose like a cup of tea, with thumb and index fingers, while her other hand lazily rests on the back of her hip. She is aloof, uncaring, and ultimately alluring standing next to the Madame. 
My Madame needs no rose to add beauty to her perfection. She is so enchanting that she needs no accessories. There is only the slightest hint of a jewel in her hair, a small dash of light that could just as soon be the sprouting of a halo as it might be a jeweled pin keeping her hair aloft. She us unadorned except for one thing. 
One very tiny piece of jewelry.
Ever so faintly – the wedding band on her left ring finger. Not even an imposing diamond encrusted treasure, but a simple gold band. With only a quick stroke of a small brush dabbed with the saddest speck of white did Sargent include what he had to. How painful must that dab of paint have been for him? How long did he wait to include that one, ever-so-necessary, ever-so-heartbreaking touch to his masterpiece? How long did it consume him? 


How could Sargent not look on her and simply weep? He was charged not only with passing this beauty on through the centuries, but along with it the essential idea of the heartbreak that he must have felt. The idea that such a treasure could never be possessed. He shows this beauty, at the cost of hope, at the cost of inner peace. How much did this weigh on him as he plied his trade, day in and day out, knowing that with the beauty he was giving, he was taking away the hope that something so perfect that could ever be his.
That was the heartbreak that he had poisoned me with. How swiftly she had gone from My Madame to once again Madame X. Sargent had brought me ever so close to perfection, only to remind me with the most miniscule detail that she is not mine. She was never mine, and she will never be mine.
This realization came quickly to me, and once the poison was in the wound it was impossible to stop. But how long did Sargent deny himself this undeniable fact? Was this why he spent so long struggling to find the right pose, wasting through countless sketches and rough drafts? Not a striving for perfection but an attempt to delay the inevitable goodbye that had to accompany the completion of such a masterpiece. Perhaps it explains the signature in the bottom right-hand corner, which begins with a deeply bold stroke but quickly fades from life, becoming barely visible at the conclusion, as if his courage to complete the work vanished the closer he got to finishing.  


I knew what Sargent was feeling, because I too found myself simply unable to walk away from her. How could I turn my back on her? Wherever I had come from, I couldn’t ever go back. I just couldn’t make myself step back onto those towering stone steps and into the cold world outside, not without feeling the emptiness of the world enveloping me, the grotesque buildings of the metropolitan world weighing me down, crushing whatever she had left behind of my shattered heart.
She was inside that vault; she would forever be inside. And she belongs in a museum with the treasures of a thousand kingdoms. She belongs with the relics that defined nations, if for nothing else than to show that while the stones of power crumble into dust, she endures.
As for me, I will keep her locked inside my own vault, the delicate memory of an impossible perfection. I eventually ventured outside, only to make that slow sojourn back to my cold home, alone, to think about her. I rode the subway out to the final stop, the whole car abandoning me before then, reinforcing the loneliness that dominated the day.
I went there to write of war, of bitter fighting, of blood and battles and death – the ugly things of the world – and instead I witnessed a beauty that I never would have known existed in this too cold world.
I went to write of war and I left thinking only of her.
Madame X.
Forever my Madame.
Never my Madame. 


I always have trouble being creative in heavily trafficked areas. For every insightful thing I overhear that I include in an essay, I hear at least one inane or outright mentally retarded comment that grates me. The storage area of the Met is no different. I just happened to be lucky enough to stumble upon a work so engaging that I was able to mostly tune out noise, like the young boy in the orange polo shirt who every few minutes would fly by me and yell at his parents in Spanish from sixty feet away.

It was an exercise in patience and self-control, and I really appreciated the opportunity. I have only written about a painting once before, and that was a poor attempt six years ago. I hadn’t tried since. In the same way that Caitlin enjoys going there with people who have never been, I enjoyed having an experienced patron show me her favorite spots. I have a tendency to get intimidated in the face of daunting tasks, and emerging from the caverns of 84th street to be confronted with a quarter-mile long museum was most definitely an anxious moment for me. Having a guide like Caitlin really made it easy though, and I can’t thank her enough for that. It’s just too bad that I’m going to have to keep going back there until they pull from storage the painting I went to see in the first place. And to see the one that I fell in love with.

September 19th: Stephen Pause

Stephen Pause took great pictures at the Met, some of them I have uploaded here but the majority of them are at his excellent blog Teratology. He also has captions/details there.