Feature: Poetry

Tom Montag

“The Woman in an Imaginary Painting”

Let me teach you
about silence,
says the woman

in the painting.
Sit with me here
in the dark

of this museum.
Listen to the world
slanting towards

evening. You hear
traffic. Do you
hear the cricket?

Do you hear
the stars? Sit
with me, she says.

Let me teach you
of stillness beyond
the empty heart:

Death is not
as perfect
as this is.

“The Woman in an Imaginary Painting”

Her hands know nothing,
which shows in the way

she holds them. The pose
is her own. No one

told her to sit like
this, not the artist,

not her mother who
taught her other

modesties. Her hands
are not like birds at

evening gathering in
the branches, not like

flags in the morning
sun. Her fingers don’t

show a secret code.
They haven’t found

meaning beyond one,
and five, and ten.

They cannot touch
the greater darkness.

“The Woman in an Imaginary Painting”

Art is,
in a way,

a sacrament.
It might

be communion,
it might

be priesthood,
it might

be extreme

its blessing
oily and

O, she says,

the woman
in the painting,

I am married
to color,

to canvas,
to the shape

that is this.
Is that what


“The Woman in an Imaginary Painting”

She thinks of those hills
she loved as a child,
of the grasses who

were her friends, of
Old Grandmother Pine.
As reminder now

she has only this
worn wooden table,
the straw mat on it.

And her memories.
Her memories still
hold endearing warmth.

Even in the cold
museum, she knows
she is not alone.

“The Woman in an Imaginary Painting”

long enough

standing here
before her

you may lose
your place

and find there’s
no way back.


Tom Montag’s books of poetry include: Making Hay & Other Poems; Middle Ground; The Big Book of Ben Zen; In This Place: Selected Poems 1982-2013; This Wrecked World; The Miles No One Wants; Imagination’s Place; Love Poems; and Seventy at Seventy. His poem ‘Lecturing My Daughter in Her First Fall Rain’ has been permanently incorporated into the design of the Milwaukee Convention Center. He blogs at The Middlewesterner. With David Graham he recently co-edited Local News: Poetry About Small Towns.