Woman Seated Before an Easel/ poem by Mary O’Melveny

     . . . After paintings by Camille Corot

In one frame, she stares at his easel.
In another, her hand touches the canvas,
as if she could imagine having
tipped her own brush into the oil, then
onto grassy ground, cypress tree, ivory sky.  
Her golden taffeta skirt rivals the 
framed landscape for our attention.  
A black and white dog watches her.

I imagine her picking out that day’s 
clothing from Camille’s closet: silk scarves,
gypsy tapestries, velvet sleeves of blue 
and yellow, crimson satin aprons, lacework
collars, headpieces sewn with pearls, rhinestones.  
A draper’s castoffs transport her as she
fondles each fiber, meshes her hand to 
its grain, sweeps back her hair, lifts her arms.
In other renderings, Corot has added
a rosewood mandolin.  She strokes its surface.
One can almost hear songs she wants to play.  
Perhaps she did so before she assumed 
her pose, before she donned her costume, 
tied her curls in ruby silk ribbons. Sitting ended,
one hopes they might have spoken of the way
her notes echoed in the room like sunlight.


Author's Note: Camille Corot, famous for landscape paintings in the 19th century, also painted many figure studies of women covering the period from the early 1830s to the 1870’s.  Corot encouraged his models to dress in costumes from his studio closet and decide how they wanted to be portrayed.  Many of these portraits hint at lush inner lives as these women stare directly at the viewer or read books or cradle musical instruments.  


Mary K O’Melveny, a retired labor rights lawyer, lives with her wife in Woodstock, NY and Washington DC. Mary is the author of “A Woman of a Certain Age” and “MERGING STAR HYPOTHESIS” (Finishing Line Press 2018, 2020) and co-author of the Hudson Valley Women’s Writing Group anthology “An Apple In Her Hand.” A Pushcart Prize nominee, Mary has received award recognition for her poetry, including First Place in the 2017 Raynes Poetry Competition, the 2019 Slippery Elm Literary Journal Contest and the 2020 “Poems of Political Protest” Contest sponsored by City Limits Publishing. 
Mary’s new collection “Dispatches From the Memory Care Museum” is published by Kelsay Press.

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