Monday, April 2, 2012

#27: "Klimt and Time" by Donna Lewis Cowan

~These poems originally appeared in Notre Dame Review (2010)

Klimt and Time: Three Poems

1.  Nouveau

Then it was hinged in:
a parlor-scene’s exact history,

its gold-plated frame
greater than the picture,

casting vines that circle and ravel
with the stamp of primitive eyes.

They tangle about her
as she stares out, her soul

a drowsy prattle at the pane.
She is stunned still,

a jarred specimen watching
as the forest rises about her,

as visitors pause, then accelerate
toward the masterpiece in the next gallery:

tanned Judith in her golden collar,
the woman who had her way.  

2.  Sunflower

Square off the horizon,
razor the sky, and let the poppies

fend for themselves. It is a body
they hoist, a sunflower overgrown

by its leaves in a cloak
of hooked spades, given up

to the sharpening petals below.
It seeks the sun long edited out,

mixed with the cutting-room scraps,
the square canvas pruning the spread

of petal and sky.  Its head snaps
into paralysis, mounted there,

the unlocked florets softening for descent,
less a proud crown than a creature

tousling in a trap,
whose life you cannot give back.

3.  Portrait of Emilie Flöge

You fill me in, set my face into
a measured hollow like a jewel;

the fabric evolves from the rocks:
a netting of sea-strands, loose cells. 

You shadow length and width,
from a distance or up close, inside,

between, against, pushing
the parameters open as a study,

creating new versions of skin,
each body a priori knowledge,

at least when you begin.
You know I won’t stay here,

that dimensions have stops
(that we are always documenting,

like this) though they continue forever.
And here is the marker:

my hand moves through the beam,
emerging intact on the other side

like a magic trick. You dare me
to want what I want:

for all symmetry to break off
and banish its twin.

This set of three poems was inspired by a trip to Vienna, Austria, that my husband Jeff and I took in 2004.  At the Ober Belvedere art museum, there are an enormous number of Klimt paintings – including “The Kiss,” Klimt’s most famous painting.  We also saw Klimt’s famous Beethoven Frieze at the Secession, and saw the castle-like house on the Attersee where Klimt once lived.  When I returned home - inspired by three of his paintings - I wrote these poems.
Nouveau” – At the Ober Belvedere art museum, you could see the progression of Klimt’s work, from very conventional pictures of society women, to the lush, sensual, self-possessed figures he is most famous for.  The painting that inspired the poem, of a woman without all the ornamentation of the women who followed, is utterly forgettable, obliterated by the light of his later vision.
Sunflower” – This was inspired by a painting of a sunflower, which in its posture resembled a crucifixion. There is a strangeness to the bowed “head,” and the wild, frenzied foliage all around it, like a mob.  Klimt also had a tendency to reshape his landscape paintings into squares instead of traditional rectangles, lending them a claustrophobic feeling.
Portrait of Emilie Flöge”– Emilie Flöge was Klimt’s long-time female companion, who tolerated Klimt’s many infidelities. The painting of her is riveting; it is almost as if she is becoming one with the rocks and natural elements around her, or somehow transcending them.
Donna Lewis Cowan’s first book of poems, Between Gods (Cherry Grove), was published in March 2012.  Her work appears in Crab Orchard Review, DMQ Review, Notre Dame Review, 32 Poems, and Measure: A Review of Formal Poetry, among other publications.  She is an experienced technical writer and computer programmer in the Washington, D.C. area, and attended the MFA program in Creative Writing at George Mason University.  Her website is

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