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Selah.
an international literary & art magazine.

 Our Lady of the Swan by Alexa Bonney H.

Elegy for Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966)

Carlo Rey Lacsamana

There is a black and white picture
of her in 1924 in Leningrad.
She sits like a queen dethroned
by history,
by fate.

She wears a thick black coat
and a black cap
for the winter of heartlessness,
of terror, of arrests,
of disappearances and executions
is harsher than all the snow in Siberia.

Her face a fierce Madonna
unwillingly mourning the tragedy
of her age.
Her beauty a requiem.
Her stony gaze looks into a time
so remote from us –

a time when one’s feet were swollen
from standing in the long queues
and lips blue from the cold
to hear news of exiles
to beg for bread
to send a meagre parcel to imprisoned loved ones –

a time when to pass the day with one boiled egg
was a cause more for celebration
than to be published –

a time when poetry was circumscribed
by the unspeakable violence of history.

Poetry was a ruined house
but still a house which nursed
the tired centuries, the hopes
of the coming spring, and the
indestructible moments of love
in the time of terror.

Into her old age she did not yield:
the poet of endurance.


I think of her
like a mother
in the next room
preparing the bed
of honey and sleep
leaving a prayer
beneath the pillow:

to stand witness to the common lot.


Elegy for Susan Sontag (1933-2004)

Carlo Rey Lacsamana

Blazing mind
sharp as a lightning
quick as a wolf
graceful as a stag.

You soar the world
by loving the written word.
World and word. In between
stands the feeling body, the thinking
flesh: corporeal mindfulness.

In the library of your heart
you leave no space, no shelf
for cynicism, boredom, stupidity, mediocrity,
indifference... but only for everything
worth fighting for:

art, music, old buildings, sensuality,
literature, places, love, the pain of others,
the manifold self...

Your commitment to books is a thrust of light
in these dark times of technological bondage,
of uninterrupted distractions
and of narcissistic fantasies.
Your avidity (to be interested in everything)
an oasis in the desert of ignorance and shallowness.



You preached the subversiveness of solitude in a time of mob rule,
the courage of innerness in a time of self-exhibitionism,
the conscience of words (to read is to be fully human)
in a time of photographic consumerism,
the passions of the mind in a time of mindlessness.

To know feelingly,
imagination inadequate without sympathy.
For intelligence can only be worthwhile
if it is capable of weeping for the other.

 Seus Olhos Copulam by Clarice Goncalves

After Georgia O’Keeffe’s “The Shelton with Sunspots” 1926

 Cynthia Gallaher

The Shelton with Sunspots

before hurrying in, O’Keeffe paused

to ponder temporary 

shelter she shared with Stieglitz,

this grand Shelton Hotel 

at Lexington and 49th.



the sun winked,

showed how she, at will,

could take bites from brick and mortar

send bright crumbs atumble

in terra cotta, ochre, sienna, sandstone

as if into camera’s viewfinder.



details even Stieglitz might miss,

using a lens hood to mask both glare 

and where the future with her would lie. 



she stood in the canyon,

saw fireballs from the tunnel

pour down a glimmered blessing,



a radiant penultimate to market and marriage,

before the artist headed west, spread brushes

and roots on sun-bleached landscape as vast

as Shelton was skyward.







 Melancholy by Debosmita Samanta

Midnight Dream by Debosmita Samanta

Nude Plates

Felicia Mitchell
Virginia Terry Derryberry, April 1980

These plates have been licked clean,

the porcelain stained with saliva

that reads like Rorschach blots

for those who see breasts

where others see blue irises

while I just look and wonder

how saliva could take on more meaning

than ink spilled across a piece of paper. 

Art

Felicia Mitchell
C. A. McGill, 5-9-1977

On my hearth is a tall clay vase

that usually stands empty,

though it will hold dirt or water.

I like it full of cattails and lilies.

Visitors think it’s an elephant foot,

sturdy and flat, capable of holding up

the weight of the world. It’s not.

It’s just a tall clay vase, constructed

of coils and fired in a kiln in a college

classroom many years ago. The hands

that made it were the first hands 

of my first lover. I remember these hands.

I can feel them shaping the coils, turning

and twisting, smoothing and churning,

until the torso of a young woman emerged.

Or an elephant foot. It doesn’t matter.

Diamond In The Rough by Joseé Laberge

Paradise by Joseé Laberge

LEONORA CARRINGTON: TELL THE BEES

Kenneth Pobo

I’m no longer talking to bees.  

They don’t listen.  Actually, 

my buzz bores bees.  As a human, 

I’m cloudy with bad ideas 

and worse behaviors.  The bee says 

“I have a flower to dandle.  Go back 

to the porch and read your paper 

full of the vicious things 

you do to each other.”  I go.  

When a bee speaks, I listen.  

All animals do.  It’s not a fear 

of the sting.  Bees make sense,

pep up a blossom.  

A groundhog, who I admit I dislike, 

thinks a bee is a goddess or god.  

Who am I to say he’s wrong?  

Their wings carry Mt. Olympus,

no sagging.  

A new morning comes.  A bee 

drops it on our neighborhood.  

A sunflower opens for business.

 Pernegul by Lai Khai Jin, Celeste

Hangai by Lai Khai Jin, Celeste

Kazakh Woman by Lai Khai Jin, Celeste

Cécile Coulon

Laurent Robert

Elle n'a pas besoin de failles

Elle peut très bien s'en passer

Pas de goût pour ce qui déraille

Ni les brûlures du passé

Elle étire dans l'écriture

Les fragments acides du temps

Sans que ce soit tic ni posture

Elle aime jouir tout autant

Elle sort l'âme de sa gangue

Lui préfère un embrasement

Elle veut vivre langue à langue

Le plus cruel déchirement

L'éreintement d'une vie sage

En ses muscles rigueur et rage

 Melissa No. 1 by Liu Ling

 Tang Tee Khoon by Lu Min Mok

 Friends by Manuel Remaggio

                                                                                              

Kate

Marjorie Power


Three years since your last letter.
I’d like word about your recent oils.
Hoping they’re displayed at some
pricey Santa Fe gallery, I go online,
find an obituary. You were 85.

          Died? In Kentucky?
          Kate, I’m here to see
          what you’ve been painting.
         
That Spanish elder whose glow
filled her restaurant in Bernalillo
where 15 years ago my husband and I
stopped and fell in love with your show…
She wouldn’t advertise on the web.

          And yes, I remember she passed away.
          You’re the one who said so.

…born in Las Cruces, grew up there.
Home Economics, marriage, five kids,
Nevada then back to New Mexico.
Name of the child who preceded you
in death. Survived by.

          She was an artist
          and did many oil paintings.
          End of subject. Family photos.

The first piece we bought remains my favorite.
Sky about to clear, mountains
sharp, puddles bright and fresh. Green things
greening up through brown.
An old flat-roofed adobe structure, long, low.
You said it would have been used
as a church. A priest would have visited
as time and weather allowed.

          Such buildings had a liquid, Spanish name
          What was it, now. Don’t know. 

Oil Portrait with Added Rust

Marjorie Power


Hinge, flattened. Screwed down at both ends.
Strips cut from a metal sheet. Nailed.
Left out in weather.        
Neither nose nor mouth.
Not anymore.
 
Whatever it took.               To block this woman’s breath.
               To lock in her words. Her song.
              
Whatever it takes
to keep her gentle ways (eyes
deep, calm, fierce as a sea
in its after-storm hour) from
spreading throughout the kingdom.

 SALUT, MADAME CEZANNE!

    for Hortense Fiquet 

Pegi Deitz Shea

At the Met, I bristle

through an exhibit 

and call to my uncle,

dead just a year: 

Pierre, as a young sculptor

in Ecole des Beaux Arts,

what did you make of 

the Madame Cezannes?


In 29 portraits 

Hortense

buttoned-up

never smiles, 

never smirks,

never seeks 

light with her eyes.

Did her back ache

from sitting

still as an apple

for her husband

150 times per portrait?

Is she choleric 

having been caché

for 17 years—

Paul too ashamed 

of her low status,

afraid to lose

Papa’s allowance.


Pierre, in your hands,

she could not have

contained her mirth

nor you your mischief.

You’d have unbuttoned her,

untied her, undermined

the lines of her closed lips.

Clothed in clay,

your fingers would have

poured across the funnel

of her clavicles

trickled down her cleavage

waded into orchards

of neglected fruit.


Hortense, Pierre, 

my muses, salut!

Now, here

in the Grand Hall

of the Met, 

a jazz quartet

models the music

you dare to make 

dimensions beyond

a brush stroke’s dream!

Prophecy 

(After Paul Gauguin, Tehura,  sculpture, ca. 1891-1893, Tahiti)

Pegi Deitz Shea


From courts in distant future,

a young girl called to you.

Original, self-confident,

she demanded pua wood.

You chipped locks from light brown grain,

and chiseled challenging eyes.

You widened cheeks, flared her nose

carved her chin daringly high,


set determined lips together,

pua blossom over her ear,

named the work of art Tehura

meaning leader without fear.


You brought her from Tahiti;

now, she reigns on Quai d’Orsay.

I see her—Serena Williams,

Queen of Roland Garros clay.

 In the Company of Flowers

after Rebecca Louise Law’s installation, Community

  at the Toledo Museum of Art

Rikki Santer

Submerge me into this linear bouquet

curtains of plants 

trickling down from heaven’s grid

rack my focus through the rain

of rhythmic notations

      vertical riffs of

ancestral petals

tiny gourds on tender

edge of rattle

little swords of wheat

fuzzy-hearted commas 

of whispery fronds

all in a marimba of alchemy 

to galvanize this womb of a room into pastoral idyll

selfie travelers transform

to be gentle with themselves

revere pigtails of copper wiring

    chimes of gloriosa daisies

blue larkspur 

lavender pulse of little lottie

   memories of love or loss try me on

nooks and crannies air-born staccato

shadows harmonize with white walls

           membranes waltz onto linoleum floor

yawning of dawn in low hum

the dead never so fresh & syncopated.

    How to Cohabitate with a Kaleidoscope

after Infinity Mirrors by Yayoi Kusama

Cleveland Museum of Art; 2018

Rikki Santer

arthropod eyes for equilibrium polka dots eye you as you eye them in your endless chamber sliver balls float among the hosta in this hot house mirror mirrored door claims you shuts you in she promises in a most animated manner  modest proscenium launches you into the pleats and folds of abyss flickering gold lanterns dangling crystals polymath for your sensory pilgrimage cloth organs swim in the effervescence ain’t no peep show but a long long story that refracts your body melts you away into the infinite spread tentacles bedazzle in ambrosia of space-time kabocha squash like paper lanterns guide your ancestors back to you on the gleaming waters of today’s dream stars scatter like sugar another glitterbomb and then another another tumble spin fractal  patterns    you breathe in       pulse with   moments of         symmetry symmetry

 Blue Gaze by Roanna Tella

 Giraffe Woman by Sandra PARIS

Tattoed Necked by Sandra PARIS

Celine: Photographer

Sarah Law

This short fiction is based on the life of Celine Martin (1869-1959), whose younger sister became Saint Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897). Celine was an artist and photographer. Her own conflicted religious vocation came late, but she brought her photographic equipment and artist’s eye into the convent, and was responsible for capturing much-treasured photographs, and later painted images, of her short-lived sister. 


1881

Lisieux


Therese and I pose for the camera at Madame Besnier’s studio. We are both dressed the same, in the patterns sewed up for us by one of Mama’s workers. I saw the designs in le Conseiller Universale, and liked them, as did Marie, who took the magazine from me before I had finished with it. Our dresses are not pink as in the published illustration, but a modest blue, with deep, dark V shapes plunging down from our necks to partway down our thighs. 

Therese, being only eight years old, has no hips to speak of. But I will shortly turn thirteen, and my body has filled itself out with secrets, unknown even to myself. I stand alarmingly tall, my legs like trunks in their high black boots. My long hair is tied back. I hold my head up, proudly: a big sister, at last. I don’t see Therese’s expression at the time, as she stands close by my side, holding the skipping rope at the photographer’s suggestion. I place my arm around her and put my hand on her shoulder. She feels warm and small, a child-version of myself. We hold the pose. We have, alas, no mother to protect her; or to prevent me from growing up.

From this strange brown box, an image will come. I cannot help myself; I am fascinated by the process. Madame Besnier’s camera is like a toy confessional, too tiny for its veil, and into which are sucked and absolved our hidden sins. After its processing, we will emerge on shining paper, colorless, but immortalized. I think, I should like to do this one day: create art from light and flesh; listen without words and negotiate with time. 


*

A few months later I start to bleed. I am astonished at the redness, the thickness of the blood. It is a watercolor scarlet mixed with clots of dark paste. I attempt to rinse the blood from my knee length cotton knickers, but Louise must have noticed and told Marie. She comes to see me in our bedroom, when Therese is out with Papa. I put down my sketchbook but stay seated on my bed. ‘Celine, I bring you the rags: you will need to use them at certain times of the month.’ She issues me with a parcel wrapped in tissue paper. In it are rectangular cotton napkins. ‘It is something all women must deal with,’ she shrugs. I realize that I have been ignorant of an important bodily function for thirteen whole years. Women everywhere, bleeding! And yet to wear red is bad; it is vulgar: all women, vulgar in their bright painterly parts.

‘Are you in pain, Celine? Does your stomach hurt?’ I nod, it is true, the cramping is unpleasant. ‘Louise will make you a tisane,’ says Marie. ‘Tell Papa you have a headache, if he sees you are unwell.’ She embraces me and leaves. 


1887

Paris


We visit the Louvre. Two days in Paris and my head spins. I am looking at genius and I think my own girlish efforts so much firewood; poor straw barely fit for a blaze. 

A Renoir, newly mounted. For a moment I think, arrogantly, nonsensically, it is a portrait of me. But how could that be? The head of a woman, perhaps just twenty years old; but how weary and dream-laden she seems. This is how I feel, but never how I would publicly pose. Yet here is the posture, with her left hand propping up her heavy head. Such rich colors, and such brushstrokes. Therese and Papa are engaged in conversation; I do not think it is about art. I turn back to the mounted canvass and feel myself diminish in stature before something so compelling, so utterly modern. The rich blue of her dress is echoed in the blue – deep and heavy – above her head, and in the blue shadow at the line of her palm. This woman’s skin is the most beautiful translucent tone. It shines, almost, though I know it to be technique. I lean in, discerning ghostly blue tones under the pink of her complexion. She is a breath away from living. Ah! Perhaps she is me after all. She is sad – and she wears a slim wedding ring; the cause of her pain. But these pearlescent shades, the fullness of her flesh – how can the critics miss its power, mis-read it to the extent of taking dapples of light as putrefaction? 

Perhaps it takes someone who is both natural subject of such art, and a painter herself, to so merge with this creation as to be touched by its life in her own living core. Mother of God, Guardian Angel. See how very proud I am! See how much I still have to learn, to fashion myself in the shadows of humility. I am cross with myself. Yet pleased, obscurely, with my private thoughts.

I emerge from my trance and soon we leave the Museum. It rains, and this is the one thing we are inadequately prepared for. Yes, we will dress for the Pope, but for the weeping heavens – no. Papa suggests we buy new raincoats in the neighboring Galleries, so in we go, huddling with Parisians and other tourists who entertain the same thoughts. I look at their faces; their worn, wet complexions; the pink, peach, gray, blue, making up the dermis of the human body. The smells of damp materials, weary shoppers, mingle like a swirling landscape of paint. Inside them all is a woman resting her head on her elbow.

Papa generously ushers us to the ground floor, where he orders two raincoats and they are fitted and purchased. And then, with time to spare before dinner at the hotel, we ride the new, steam-powered elevators to the top floor of the Galleries, for no reason but novelty and pleasure. I look at Therese and find her entranced. In this enclosed space, removed from the bustling floors, we move upwards and the swirling in my stomach reminds me of my involuntary physical response to Uncle’s interest in my drawings. Therese must feel this swirling too though; of what does she think? 

She has her look; her lips pressed together, sweetly suppressing a secret.


1888

January 


She turns fifteen, and all she wants to do is fly to her convent cell. She has been told that as she is still so young, she must wait until the Lenten fast is over. Despite herself, she crumples with impatience. I soothe her, after my own fashion. ‘Live a little,’ I suggest. ‘Come to the town with me. There is a new patisserie on the Rue de la Couture. We can have hot chocolate; bring some cakes home for Papa.’ She is not persuaded. 

I go to the town myself, meeting Jeanne and Aunt Celine. We visit haberdashers, stationers, milliners, and yes, the patisserie. Jeanne is immediately at ease and selects sweetmeats for us all. ‘We’ll get something for Therese,’ she says, concerned to show she cares for her quixotic cousin. ‘And Celine, you will visit us this Saturday, with or without your sister! Come – wear your new jacket and hat. Albert will be visiting us, he wants to meet you; he knows you paint and would hear your opinions on the Paris exhibitions.’ She smiles; it is a fait accompli. I will come.


*


Albert Quesnel sits in the corner of the sitting room like a large black spider. When I arrive, he does not make a sound, but when I have given my coat and new hat to Honoree and patted down my hair and skirts, I enter the room; he folds himself upwards, then forwards into an almost indiscernible bow.

‘My very great pleasure, Mademoiselle Celine,’ he says. I offer him my hand. He takes it in his own and there is a moment of hesitation before he raises it slightly and bows further towards it. But does not kiss it. I feel myself to be a rare drink; a glass raised and lowered in ritual salutation. Before long Jeanne and Marie both come in and settle down for the semi-polite sisterly exchange of the Guerins. Albert discourses surprisingly well, after our awkward opening. He is an informed gentleman and I find myself genuinely interested in his reports from the art world of Paris. ‘The next exposition, Celine (if I may), promises to be of particular interest to those following the new light-centered portraiture set in the natural world,’ he says. ‘Indeed,’ I say. ‘And will young Monsieur Monet continue to surprise us with his unusual brush strokes, and monomania of subject?’ I am more than able to keep the conversation going; more than that, I am enjoying the experience of exchanging views about advancements in the creative discipline I have followed for so long. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Marie interested too; and Jeanne choosing rather to watch my reactions. She hopes to play matchmaker with this new caller. 

‘You are of a family truly blessed with religious vocations,’ Albert says. ‘Two sisters in the Carmelite Convent of Lisieux. What a great honor for your father.’ This I can’t deny. ‘Yet his other daughters remaining at home to care for him – what an even greater comfort.’

‘Not three for long, Monsieur Quesnel,’ Cousin Marie can’t help herself from joining in. 

‘Surely you are not also called to the sanctified life?’ he says, turning to me, like a magnetized flag.

‘We are all called to live a sanctified life, whatever our circumstances,’ I say to him, reflecting on many conversations I have had with Therese, and indeed myself. ‘But it is my youngest sister, Therese, who has heard and responded to the call to Carmel. She enters there this year.’ Saying it to him, I am stirred into a new sense of abandonment mixed with pride. A flicker of my frequent daydream crosses my senses: that of painting Therese on the eve of her departure, a seated Therese, looking into the fading sky from the belvedere; a finely-dressed girl giving her life to God. How would Albert receive this confidence? As a symptom of pride? But in fact, he is pleased with my response. 

‘I am deeply moved by her commitment,’ he manages. ‘And by the spiritual and artistic gifts of your whole family.’ He hesitates. ‘Mademoiselle Celine, would you permit me to call on you for a further extension of our conversation? My soul benefits from your vision. Please do not deny me this pleasure.’

I feel myself blush. Stupidly so, as my attraction for this man is negligible, compared with the pull of my soul towards tableaux vivantes and painters’ palettes. Yet it has been a pleasure, of a diversionary sort, to converse with him, and so I agree with a forced but gracious smile to his request. 

At night in our bedroom, Therese is so quiet that I know not whether she wakes or sleeps. Perhaps she does neither but is wrapped up in the jealous God who can’t wait to take her. I imagine a man’s breathing – Albert’s – accompanying my thoughts as they dissolve into dream.



April


Therese has entered the Carmel. 

It is evening, and the light fades as though never to return.

By my side is my sketch book. I will not go to Madame Duclair this week, but I am compelled to mark the day with my art, somehow. In the sketch book I have been drawing lines and curves. The lines resemble pear drops, tear drops, diamonds; shattered gems. Cross-hatchings of gray and black. Darker and darker my strokes, like a black veil falling over what had once been bright. I press harder than usual with my pencils. One I break. 

Tom patters in to the room and places himself desultorily at my feet with a noisy, impolite, doggy sigh. Papa’s prized clock ticks away, obstinately, on the mantelpiece. 

There is a noise at the front door. Elise must still be here, as I hear steps and then the door opening. A man’s voice. Monsieur Ruffle, for Papa? But Papa retired immediately to his study after dinner. It is his way of shutting out the loss.

Suddenly there is a gentle knock against the open sitting room door. ‘Monsieur Quesnel for Mademoiselle Celine,’ says Elise, her face its usual mix of deference and curiosity. And in walks Albert; tall, dark, and gaunt-looking in the April evening light. 

‘Monsieur Quesnel! This is an unexpected pleasure. Please, sit down.’ And he does, in the chair beside the settee on which I sit with my open sketch book. He seems nervous, but perhaps he is just slightly breathless from his after-dinner walk. ‘Papa is in his study. I should –.’

‘Please, do not trouble him,’ says Albert. ‘Monsieur Martin is a contemplative man; I would wish to respect his nature.’ He risks lifting his dark eyes to mine, and offers a lopsided smile, which I return in kind. ‘You have been working on your art.’ He gestures at the open page with its mismatched lines. ‘You are dedicated to it. This is a wonderful thing, Celine.’ And he smiles at me again, as though I am his great hope for the future of the cultured world.

I cannot help it. I shut the book and clasp my hands together primly in my lap. 

‘May I offer you some refreshment, Albert?’

‘Very kind of you, Mademoiselle Martin.’

I ring the bell and Elise appears with Papa’s brandy bottle and glass on a silver tray. Albert pours himself a very modest measure. He smiles still, but his hands shake a little. 

He settles back into his chair and asks me about my day. I tell him that Therese entered Carmel this morning. He nods, as though this is a known event, a fixed date in the cycle of the liturgical year. And, it turns out, a good day to make a proposal of marriage. ‘This is a year of great changes and brave decisions for your family. Won’t you join me in making your own great decision and do me the honor of becoming Madame Celine Quesnel?’ And he gives his half-smile again, draining the small brandy glass and setting it back on its tray. Tom raises his head and breathes with a rhythmical heaviness before lowering it back between his paws. 

For a moment, the grays of the evening swirl through the room, and gather together on my sketch book before pouring themselves into my heart. My throat is scratchy and my eyes sting. I imagine pronouncing my marriage vows to Monsieur Quesnel in a gray gown, unpinning my long gray hair on our wedding night so that it falls about me, becomes me, my body vanishing and the hair collapsing like a dry nest to the floor.

I know that I cannot marry him. But where have I gone?

‘Monsieur, such a kind, kind offer!’ I must let him down gently, I know. ‘I am so very touched and honored – if you knew what your words meant to me!’ And the gray seeps into my mind and I am stumbling in a fog. ‘But I am afraid I must disappoint you, and I am so very sorry. Only this morning, I had determined upon a – a vow of celibacy! I have just written to my confessor who has been urging me to stake this step; a small step, I know, compared to my darling sister, but one I feel I must take in her honor and in hope of one day securing my own certain calling, whatever that may be.’ Even to me this sounds prolix, long-winded. But Albert has the grace to hear me out. Presently he nods, as if to himself, and rises.

‘You do me no dishonor, Mademoiselle, and I am forever grateful for your honesty in this and all our intercourse. In fact, I had spent many hours in prayer this week before coming to you with my humble request this evening. It may be that the good God has spoken to me through you. I too have been meditating on the possibility of a vocation.’ He moves towards the still-open door and gestures with his hand for me to remain seated. ‘Do not be surprised, Celine, if you next hear from me from the Grand Seminary of Bayeux. And rest assured of my continued intercession for your happiness at all times.’ And with this, he bows slightly, and is gone to his future without the prospect of a wife. Tom sleeps on, having satisfied himself that there is no need for him to accompany Albert into the hallway. 

I sit in the encroaching darkness, with a dreaming dog, and wonder why everyone is called but me. It is true that Father Pichon supported my idea of a yearly vow of celibacy, but this is a mere 

marker, signifying an absence. In agitation my hands find my sketchbook and open it again, on a blank page. 

A fresh page, I tell myself. I will see what might emerge in the empty light of morning. 


1894 

La Musse: A Country House owned by The Guerins.


Sometimes art can be a salvation from distress. Not for Papa: he is beyond creative expression now. He can only offer himself, his near-completed life, in all its colors and tones. But for us, the remaining younger ones, a project has been set into motion. Marie and I have not always been the closest of cousins. But she is talented. She sings like an angel as well as throwing herself into the new art of the photograph. 

Jeanne and her husband Francis will join us. Francis is so good-humored, his moustaches positively twirled of their own accord at the prospect. And Father Joseph! The good Doctor Corneille has let his priested son come out to play. Father Joseph is the experienced one, having visited the New World. But I am the artist; I set the scenes; I conjure the tableaux. We are going to the Andes. In the clear eye of the Darlot, the many acres of La Musse are exoticized, as, in a way, are we. 

As far away from Carmel as it is possible to imagine. 

Farewell! Isidore joins in the first photograph, shaking Francis’ hand as we depart La Musse, travel cases in hand. In the cases are cloaks and provisions, as though we were off on a real holiday. Marie and I wear similar dresses as we so often do. Full-length and tasteful ivory, with deep blue cross-body sashes minimizing our busts but accentuating our waists, all small. Jeanne’s dress is similar but of slightly duller material; the dress of a married woman. Altogether we are in the monied, secular habits of leisure. Aunt cannot keep still, despite my telling her more than once about the importance of holding the post. She stands at the top of the steps to the house and keeps turning her head to survey us all with a vacant smile. She will come out as a whitened blur, a woman without a face.

Off we go to explore one hundred acres of castle ground; ground transformed through our fancy and through the artificiality of the glass plate into the Cordillera Mountains! There is laughter. Francis leads the way, shooting gun held aloft. Jeanne and Marie follow him with little rivulets of laughter and song.  I stroll, for a while, with awkward Fr. Joseph. 

‘A glorious day,’ he observes.

‘A beautiful day indeed,’ I say. ‘But you must have experienced true heat in Chile; far greater than this.’

He nods as he walks. ‘Ah yes. God’s earth is not always so pleasant for us missionaries. Our adventures must be for Him, or we risk a scorching!’ I am not surprised his talk turns pious so quickly. He is little at ease with the ladies, despite his travels and his learning. A scorching? It’s hard to imagine him succumbing to sinful temptations. He must be a very literal man.

‘Ah – how are your dear sisters?’ he cannot help himself enquiring, though I had hoped for a day away from talk of them. 

‘They are well, Father,’ I am obliged to reply. ‘Although we all think ceaselessly of dear Papa as he comes to his journey’s end.’ 

Fr. Joseph is comfortable with talk of impending family death. He offers me a selection of pious platitudes. I suppose that he has experience of such situations. They are common of course, and everyone needs a priest at such a time. 

I make a mental note to avoid his ministrations when Papa’s exile ends.

Bridges. Rivers. ‘Let’s start here,’ says Marie. ‘Let’s get on the bridge and make up a story. I know! Let’s fish. Celine, borrow Francis’ gun. You can shoot!’

So we do. I set the camera, pushing the tripod legs down into the rich earth. Francis helps me with the equipment, needlessly, but he is a man and likes to oversee our endeavors. ‘Careful Celine,’ he advises, cheerily. ‘Keep your beautiful dress as spotless as your soul!’ He beams at his own clumsy compliment. I smile back at him, having wiped my hands on my handkerchief and stowed it away in the little hip pocket under my sash. ‘I’ll set the mechanism,’ I say. ‘Let’s pose on the bridge as Marie suggests.’ I feel shy asking Francis for his shooting gun, but he presses the long, cool weapon into my hand and guides me by my elbow to where the others stand over the sluggish water. 

‘Closer together!’ says Marie, eyes bright with her own vision of how the tableau should be. Fr. Joseph, lean over the bridge and imagine you see flying fish. Jeanne, here – take the net, ready to scoop.’ Jeanne takes the proffered net but stands rather stiffly, a residual, default resistance against her younger sister. Marie doesn’t care; she gestures me in to the center of the group and pushes me against Francis, who seems suddenly huge and warm in comparison to his travelling entourage. Marie poses, pointing with the whole of her left arm to the water. Pressed between Francis and the bridge rails, I clutch the shooter against my body, then tip it away so it points to the water, in parallel with Marie’s extended arm. But I keep my face turned towards Francis, mutely aware of his physical proximity. He beams at me. His left hand touches my body. Our eyes lock and we smile. Suddenly, I am suffused with a warmth like an electric current rippling up and down my sash and spreading over my breasts and hips.

We hold the pose.

Afterwards I work hard to disguise my dazed emotions, as if I had looked directly, and unwisely, at the July sun. I sense that, if I hope to save my soul, I should not do so again.


*


When Papa dies, I sense a shower of gold dust sighing its way up to heaven.

I take his photograph. He is utterly still: it is an excellent portrait. His hooded eyes closed. His face all white and light. On his chest, the heavy crucifix from the bedroom at Les Buissonets. Stopping him from rising from his coffin, before the judgment day.

But now I am spinning like a top free from its leash. I visit the Carmel and walking alone to the parlor, feel a huge mesh of pain in my heart. Therese, uncharacteristically, grasps the grille and implores me with her stare, her veil flung back, her face naive with hope. It kindles the same naive hope in me. She says little but bids me fit my white hands over hers.

Later I speak with Pauline. She is the expert. ‘I do not want to presume,’ I say to her. ‘I cannot expect miracles.’ Yet of course this is exactly what I expect. After all these years, it is practically my birthright. Should I wish to claim it: and suddenly, I do. 

Pauline’s look is studied; her face has its sharp look. Does she doubt my vocation, when Therese never has? Is she embarrassed by the stream of blood sisters to follow her into this sanctuary? She reads my mind: ‘a fourth Martin sister is not, for all of the community, a welcome event, Celine. After Therese...’

‘Who has been exemplary, or so you tell me.’

‘She is an angel,’ replies Pauline, firmly. ‘But nevertheless, there was friction at the start. And now once more we push at the rules, we seek to bend them for family members.’ Her lips are set firmly, a bar to her heart just as the parlor grille is a bar to the community beyond it.

‘Pauline, I know you are right. I’m a tagalong and I can’t be given full rights. But, Oh! Pauline, if you knew how I felt...’ here I stifle a tear, a hot streak of self-pity and frustration. ‘I am sick of the world. I am so tired. I would accept any position. Pauline! I would be a postulant forever, wearing those hideous blue bonnets until I am an old woman!’

Pauline smiles; she can’t help herself. But neither do I help myself with such remarks. So, I try again. ‘Surely you need another sister at the Turn? With my knowledge of the world, I could interact with it to your benefit; I could shop, clean...’

‘Oh, you will do your share of cleaning Celine, never fear. But I hope for something a little better for you. I am proud of you, and prouder still now you look to give yourself in Carmel. You have suffered and loved for us all, little sister. I will speak to Mother Marie and find a way forward. If nothing else, we need your art. I wonder even if you would be allowed to bring in your photographic materials.’ At this my heart leaps. ‘In this modern world, your skills could supplement our portrait work and would bring great pleasure to the sisters. Well,’ she corrects herself, ‘some of them.’ 

‘I would do whatever I could to serve the community,’ I assure her, formal again.

‘Humbly said,’ concedes Pauline. Though she continues to look at me as a puzzle to resolve. 

I go back to Uncle Isidore’s and capture my oldest sister’s features in a deft sketch. Prioress Pauline the merciful, I write underneath.  Then I go downstairs for some strong wine. I take a gulp, and another, and sense myself infused with new blood. I close my eyes, then open them. I breathe for ten seconds and imagine religious life’s slow exposure on my soul. I close my eyes again and, aware of my own loud heartbeat, pray to become God’s lens. 

 Broken Shape by Sierra Wiley

Old Margaretha’s Hand

Timothy B. Dodd


grabs me, the right one; a 1661 grip 

stopping my stroll. I gaze at execution

of the arms dealer’s wife, Van Rijn’s

commission in millstone ruff. Motors 

fade, footsteps mute, I pass myself

to her. Under the sky roof, clouds 

milk the sun, the locus a fragment

of her canvas. That hand, parched

skin running veins like graveled streets

as evening falls, doors following 

the last departed; her guards gone,

lights never known. Through the night

I stare, awaiting guidance, a touch 

of dark ether. Comes when she rotates 

her wrist, shows the palm, and closes 

on my heart. Rembrandt’s foreclosure. 

 Be Water by Vilija Vitkute

Clean Mind- Clean Planet by Vilika Vitkute