CHAGALL’S “THE POET WITH THE BIRDS” by Jessica Cuello
The man dreams under the tree. Or is he dead.
My students can never agree. How sealed is
that scene. Peaceful but sealed and the birds
are cut out. Their outlines remain but they
have fled. How to be free. That is what
the man dreams, folded arms, ankles crossed.
When I was a nanny, the girl and my hands
smelled of the soap the family used. They
always fed me and when I used that soap
years later, her tiny cheeks returned to me,
rising skyward on the swing. In the Chagall,
the sky is smudged with blue and the poet
seems to gaze upward, but his eyes are wells
of black that look inward at loss. If you don’t have
someone in a time like that you don’t have family.
Then you covered me in clean sheets. We watched
La Strada together before we never talked again.
You hummed along when the fool played his violin,
and once in the dark you put your hand on my side
to say, That’s old. It isn’t here now. There were no violins
in my childhood school. My mom rented a trumpet
for my brother and when it went unpaid someone
knocked on the door and took it away. Everything
has a purpose, says the fool, even this pebble.
I never cried when I left home. But, my friend,
for three years I cried if I said your name.