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A Letter from Worpswede

By Sue Cowing

Milly, if I had made three good paintings in my life
I could die now.   But I haven’t made one.
In two days I’ll be twenty-nine.
Dear sister, how good you are
To believe in me, or want to,
even in this dull time
when I have no proof of any becoming,
except what the family calls my arrogance.

I avoid the studio now, eight years of oils
and sketches stacked against the walls.

Study the masters, Father said, meaning
you will never be one, meaning revere technique
to learn some humility. Otto tells me:
learn to draw.  I want to say Otto,
Look at your hand.  Do you see lines around it?

If I have masters, they are not the great Germans
anymore.  I’d go back to those ancient
anonymous makers of the unforgettable
darks eyes awaiting eternity.  Or follow Cézanne
who alone sees that color is truth, and that’s
what painters are for.  Why, to be, must I be willing
to be unkind.   Well I must be, and I am willing.

Oh Milly, I’ll be all right.  I get like this
in February when spring and Paris are too far off
and my brushes turn stiff while I sit
on the opposite end of the couch reading in French
and Otto makes entries in his notebook entitled “Ideals”
and had no idea yet of my travel plans. 

I want to be equally unaware
of the way he turns his pipe to the side
to see the page, how he turns out studies
day after day and will overpaint, not realizing
the studies themselves are lovelier than anything
that buys us food.  If only the sun would come out,
I’d insist on a skating tour in the bright cold.

You see?  It’s only my old winter mood.





from Sister Stew, 1991

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