Her natural curve has worsened
through years of bending over working hands
feckless eyes impressed like quail eggs
nest behind spectacles, a match for tinseled hair.
Connectable, the contrast from fine line to pleat
that leads from chin to breast
where puckered lips grimace
as if mesmerized by the flight of needle
stitch by stitch slipped and purled,
at times unraveling life’s irregularities
meant for someone other than
this woman marked with scar on cheek
sketched as someone else.
levelheaded: The Portrait
“The Portrait” Laurie Kolp renders can be looked at a couple different ways–as a description of the artist sketching the work, or as a take on the subject of the artist’s sketching. This duality is inherent from the from the poem’s first line. “Her natural curve” could refer to the drawer’s technique, or to a physical feature of the woman in the drawing. The worsening curve is brought about “through years of bending over working hands,” which in the case of the artist, points to a medical condition like arthritis. In the case of the person in the picture being drawn, the above phrase suggests that her image has been shaped by–has bent to–the will and skill of the artist.
As if winking at the differing ways her poem can be read, Kolp writes, “Connectable, the contrast from fine line to pleat / that leads from chin to breast.” The first of these two lines reminds us of the close proximity between things delicate and natural vs. starched and hard-angled. This applies to an artist losing her abilities, to a model with soft skin above a crisp shirt, to any aging human whose wrinkles are starting to appear more pronounced. Interestingly, the second line in the above pair points to the connectabilty and contrast between the head and the heart, between thought and feeling.
While the bulk of the poem centers on two women–the artist and her subject–near the poem’s close, potentially a third character enters the picture. The portrait is “meant for someone.” The intended recipient could be the artist herself, which would give added weight to the reading in which we assign the poem’s rich description to the woman drawing the picture. The recipient could be the model, whose vision of herself does not align with the artist’s representation of her. Or the portrait (and “The Portrait”) could be for anyone–including us. With this realization, the contrast and connection between artist, subject, and audience is brought to light. We’re different, but we’re not all that different. We’re aging. We’re losing abilities. We’re scarred. We’re ourselves, but we’re never quite ourselves.
– The Editors