In a Painting, Waiting to Remember

Rebecca Watkins

From the painting Impression, Sunrise 1872 Claude Monet

There are holes in this paradise
yet no one ever expects it—
misty blue and grey specks cover a water
I can’t see, but hear lapping against the sides of the rowboat. 

The man with me dips the oar,
drags it through the liquid silver
as gently as wetting a paintbrush.  

It is assumed if you are wearing
white here in paradise,
you are either dead or an angel,
or like me, you could be a woman caught in painting,
waiting to remember. 

The sunrise guards its secrets here.
The colors don’t ripple in the sky
like a dress of flame
or streak and bloom red like
fingernail marks down skin. 

I’ve been here before, once as a child
but I don’t recognize the sky or greenish
silver sea or edges of land blurred by distance
and fog and eyes that long ago stopped noticing.  

I only remember the sounds
the familiar clang of the oars
the flip of water thrown from a fish’s tail,
the murmur of low voices
of fisherman
or maybe lovers,
people who wear quiet like a loose coat,
who are content to read the sky for what will come.


Author’s Commentary: I wrote the poem, "In a Painting, Waiting to Remember,” this past summer during a writing retreat using a prompt that asked us to write about paradise. Instead of writing about a typical paradise or a place that I have actually been to, I wanted to explore the idea that a true paradise, whether literal or metaphorical, doesn’t exist. Because I was having a hard time visualizing this place, I looked at some paintings and I felt drawn to the dreamlike quality and muted colors of Impression, Sunrise by Claude Monet. As I wrote, I couldn’t help but imagine myself inside the painting and once I was there I became that woman in a rowboat, searching for peace by trying to return to a familiar place, one that seemed to exist now only in a memory or dream.

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Rebecca Watkins, an educator and poet, teaches high school English in the Bronx, New York. She earned her M.F.A. in Poetry from the City College of New York, her M.S. Ed. from Lehman College, and she is a poetry editor for River River Literary Journal. Her first poetry book, Sometimes in These Places was published through Unsolicited Press in September 2017.