Christina’s World

                                                                After Wyeth

Formulaic, her arms like sticks, she’s everybody’s
Though I can’t like an object when I’m not painting
Rectitude. This lady invites me
Because she could be somebody else.
I don’t really have studios. Women busy
With my work come alive. Mysterious
Places dream a lot though I find a clearing,
And dry grass isn’t romantic. Her pink dress
And turned back don’t give a damn about you
Just the small shed and tire tracks. A bad disease
Honestly picked the nagging dignity
Of this lady. Nothing foolish, glazed
With nostalgia, she’s happy in a way
A girl posed for the body. So people look
Past maybe for a young man waiting, effective
As gray skies. Realism crawls to the house
On a hill, her weakness not clear, just the want,
American, lost marrow around people’s attics
And farms, history, or my own conscience,
Life the only clue something isn’t right.

                                                          —David Moolten

25 comments
  1. Another fine poem, David!

    I like the way you combined polyvocality into cut-up technique. Very effective. I particularly a moved by these lines:

    …Realism crawls to the house
    On a hill, her weakness not clear, just the want

    And as you often to, you took me back in time. I remember puzzling, as a child, over this painting in an art book my unaesthetic father bought from a door-to-door salesman in a moment of weakness. Dad hated the painting, thought it was abusive, almost pornographic, in a non-sexual way. I was just puzzled, what is she doing out in the middle of nowhere? How did she get that far pulling herself along like that without being filthy head to foot? Mom’s approach more compassion for the ills another must face. And so, my experience of the painting, growing up in an art-ignorant family, was also polyvocal. The way we experience much of our world.

    Very nicely done, David.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Paul,

      Thanks for your detailed and personal response to my poem. I’ve had similar experiences along the way, less with my parents than others. I’ve tried to be more stubborn than bitter, though it isn’t always easy.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thank you Anthony.

  2. Okay David, knock it off! Andrew Wyeth, you show off! Why didn’t you pick something harder to handle? I am jealous! Well, not really, just impressed. One of my favorite artists and a great work of his. Christina Olsen had a muscular deterioration when AW painted the work in tempura. The house in the picture is the Olsen’s located in Cushing, Maine. I have always felt this is one of Wyeth’s most dramatic pieces of art. There is the simple beauty of the study and implications about life which haunt all humans. But then that is another discussion. You not only wrote a masterful poem, you instructed.
    Regards,
    DH

    • davidmoolten said:

      Hi Donald,

      Thank you. I’ve always liked this painting too, even before I knew the facts about it, and then as I got to know more about Wyeth, and Maine, and the Olsons, I became even more enamored of it. I used to think this was an adolescent girl either longing for her simple origins, or bemoaning their constraints. The truth is far more interesting and powerful.

  3. Admirable. The words/worlds blend seamlessly while offering abstract and definitive. Enjoyed this. Although I’ve never been a fan of Wyeth you’ve given me a new perspective.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thank you, I have to say I like the prompt in retrospect, but in the process of doing it I wondered how anything coherent could possibly emerge. I guess there’s more to the subconscious (or whatever influences are there when one discards the usual rational approach) than I thought.

  4. Irene said:

    David, wonderful interpretation blending critics and your own words.

    This is masterful,

    Realism crawls to the house
    On a hill, her weakness not clear, just the want,
    American, lost marrow around people’s attics
    And farms, history, or my own conscience,
    Life the only clue something isn’t right.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Hi Irene,

      Thanks for reading and for your kind comments.

  5. Linda said:

    This is a well crafted work, David. It is a real reflection of the painting. Very neat and concise. The use of terms “arms like sticks” and “dry grass” have a grating edge. Your quest to find a mysterious place,romance or happiness just isn’t fulfilled. Christina has her back turned. I really loved how you painted your words. Thank you.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Hi Linda,

      Thanks for your detailed response and kind words.

  6. I thought your choice of subject to write on brilliant, and to me those last three lines are perfect.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Hi Cynthia,

      Thanks so much.

  7. rallentanda said:

    Thankyou for introducing me to this artist. Initially before I knew the history I thought Christina must have been the subject of domestic abuse .Something wasn’t right about the painting,quite unsettling in fact.I’m alway amazed how an artist can convey mood and feeling through brushstrokes light and shade.I think this Wyeth is a wonderful painter.

    ‘she’s happy in a way.. a girl posed for the body’ I like these surreal lines,
    suggests Christina is alienated from herself
    The ending of your poem says it all
    ‘life the only clue something isn’t right’

    • davidmoolten said:

      Hi Rall,

      Thanks for your careful and insightful read of the poem. Wyeth was a very enigmatic person, and while his work was “realist” it was far from easy to interpret.

  8. wayne said:

    Geez David…sooo good….”realism crawls to the house” shouts out to me. Wyeth is not my favourite….BUT i do like his prairie scenes for sure and the christina O painting is wonderful…nicely done…and i like what Mr. DH said how it was painted in tempera.. Im always impressed by your words.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Hi Wayne,

      Thanks for your generous feedback. Wyeth was a tough nut. I actually think I find him more interesting–his relationship with his father, his wife, his neighbors, the critics–than most of his work. But all that adds dimension when I look at the paintings.

  9. nathan said:

    The line about “lost marrow” is wonderful. You’ve done a great job with this prompt.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Hi Nathan,

      Thanks for reading, and again for a tough but ultimately very good prompt.

  10. Liz said:

    So many good lines in this, but I keep coming back to the very last one – very haunting given all that comes before.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Hi Liz,

      Thank you. I think Wyeth, in spite of all his successes, had a tough life. He also sympathized a lot with the people around him.

  11. I know what you mean about liking the prompt in retrospect. Like you, initially I didn’t see how order would come out of chaos. But I think you found the key in selecting material that already has so much meaning for you.

    ps Thanks for visiting my blog :-)

  12. poetryaboutart said:

    A haunting poem to go with a haunting painting! To the pre-existing triad of model-painter-critic, you add your own poet’s perspective and shaping voice. What could have turned into a noisy “babble” (your own word) by a lesser poet is, instead, made restrained by your mature poetic talent; what could have turned hyper-attentive is kept, instead, a respectful gazing; and what could have turned too public and exposed is, instead, somehow still private and mysterious. The last line of this poem reminds me of the Hamlet drama, of things being rotten in Denmark (this painting’s model was not Danish, but Wyeth’s other model was Scandinavian). Postcript: David — to read a three-part series of poems (by Catherine Staples) inspired by Wyeth’s works, see the Winter 2008 issue of Prairie Schooner.
    –Therese L. Broderick

    • davidmoolten said:

      Hi Therese,

      Thanks for your generous and detailed response to “Christina’s World.” Wyeth was quite an enigmatic figure. So much going on underneath the surface. He may have been pegged as a “realist,” but there is a psychological dimension to much of his better work that is overpowering.

      I will have to check out the 2008 Prairie Schooner; as it happens Cathy Staples is a friend of mine; she’s local. She’s also a good writer, very lyrical.

      Thanks, David

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