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  • Milk, and: Night Watch, and: He Remembers His House, and: Ghost, and: Intaglio
  • Katherine Smith (bio)


Rembrandt van Rijn

Buckets of fresh milk broughtwhile she was with child to make her strongdidn’t keep Saskia from staining the white pillow red.

A stranger’s breast saved our son.My wife died in our marriage bed,Her once abundant dowry

filled my empty palm, metallicghost I grasped—conch shells of gold,pewter swords, blue china—spending the last fistful

of guilders. Even before my wife was deadI too slipped into the wet nurse’s bed.Too numb to mind her parents’ outrage, the scald

of my own conscience, I stumbled each dayto a farmyard on the outskirts of town to drawat noon three elms that stood in a glade

the underside of their heavy limbs a jigsawof shadow, trunks and bark lost in shadethe outmost leaves reaching upwards like hungry lips

sucking white streams of light from the sun. [End Page 53]

Night Watch

I remember my father’s faceat night, among the torn envelopesholding electric bills, the mortgage,

the phone bill, the house insurance,the health insurance, the credit cards,the home equity line of credit—

and I think of the mortgageRembrandt never paid down,the debts for oil and turpentine,

the hog-bristle brushes he usedin those exuberant years before the crashto paint the great Night Watch,

brilliant soldiers looming from darkebony, the costly chiaroscuronever paid for. I see in the humbled face

of Rembrandt’s last self-portraitsmy father’s brow, furrowedin the dining room’s dim light. [End Page 54]

He Remembers His House

Rembrandt van Rijn

When I owned my house, I selected thoughtfrom cabinets of coral, stuffed egrets,

mahogany instruments. In my studio,my students heated indigo

and oil, gold leaf, and turpentine.I cultivated ghosts with pleasure:

bronze hands that glazed the memoryof my wife in celadon, white jade

ordered from Burma sculpted into a tubthat soothed me like a woman’s arms,

my housekeeper stirring lavender into the bath.The curio-lined walls nourished me

long afternoons I sketchedAmsterdam’s bustling streets,

the canals opening onto immensity.Now my home is auctioned at last,

I’ve grown common, an old woman,in ruins, the ashen clock of a public square. [End Page 55]


Rembrandt van Rijn

In my townhouse overlooking the canalthe whole world was sliding into

taking pretty ghosts, my wife and daughters,I lived in the world of speaking things.

No man’s words spoke to me as eloquentlyas emerald feathers, peacock’s plumes,

ivory tusks of elephants carved with gods.The ink on vellum, bound Moroccan leather

meant more to me than Marco Polo’s storied life.What is free will worth if it doesn’t fill a house

with precious furniture, ebony clocks? [End Page 56]


Rembrandt van Rijn

When first I entered my quiet housethe ebony tulips bowed down.

Titus, my son, burst from the rustlingskirts of his mother’s ghost, the one

of my four children to live. His brownspaniel growled at the dust on my shoes.

I shook them off and, in slippers,padded to the studio, where

an apprentice placed my silver stylusbefore me. I pulled my sketches out,

pressed Amsterdam into groundthat gave way beneath my thumb and finger.

Titus followed every gestureof my hand, the acidic details dipped

in the ink of his copper eyes. [End Page 57]

Katherine Smith

Katherine Smith’s poems have appeared in a number of journals, among them the Cincinnati Review, Ploughshares, Mezzo Cammin, Unsplendid, Measure, Gargoyle, the Journal of the Motherhood Initiative, Shenandoah, the Southern Review, Atlanta Review and Appalachian Heritage. Her first book, Argument by Design (Washington Writers’ Publishing House), appeared in 2003. Her second book of poetry, Woman Alone on the Mountain, was published by Iris in fall 2014. She teaches at Montgomery College in Maryland.



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