"The green backdrop is not a forest": Three poems by Pamela Hobart Carter

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"The green backdrop is not a forest": Three poems by Pamela Hobart Carter

"The green backdrop is not a forest": Three poems by Pamela Hobart Carter

Sisters in December

He disagreed about the ashes, so his sisters set out one night under a good December moon, without their brother, to the covered bridge over the Mill and tossed the earthly bits that had been their father into the black water. On the drive home, exhilarated by the secret of the send-off, by the rightness of the location— (although mutable—those chips of burnt bone, the silt of him, has maybe ponded on its way to the Sound, as happens with sediment), one sister gets scared a guard saw them sneak onto the bridge—illegal after sunset—or a camera caught this giddy made-up funeral— also illegal—or the pale swoosh of the sister’s arm out the small window, returning her father as dense gray chalk, in an arcing slow lob, to the brook trout and the riverbed. Then she is sorry to have brought up how in the white moonbeam the ash father glowed through the shallow current where the river bottom was black, where the river margins were black, where the coral-colored planks of the bridge looked black, and the surrounding sky and trees and rocks made one big blackness. In daylight, next morning, checking the view from the covered bridge window, she decides only other mourners might guess about the light sand resting on a flat boulder of basalt. She thinks, That’s where I will be, eventually, some way elemental again. On the cut bank, stalking aquatic insects, a green heron ignores everything but the flow around its claws. ***


This painting gives birth to baby paintings, not pretend or metaphoric births, litters of miniatures which tumble from the untidy backside of the canvas where the artist stapled the edges of cloth to wood. Trained on the gravid frame, cameras splutter to uselessness, recording nothing of the repeating miracle. After each phone call from the night guards, the museum director purrs descants to opera on her car radio during her inbound commute. Ah! The institution’s income is secure! At auction, by Sotheby’s, the miniatures will be gobbled up. The subject of the painting, no surprise, is the smiling nude self-portrait by none other than Paula Modersohn-Becker, pregnant. For decades art historians believed the opus among those destroyed by Nazis. In neglected museum storage, a persistent cataloger, sorting through a clutch of small unsigned pieces, had discovered, hanging above them in the shadows, the object of fecundity. The complete simplicity, the simple completeness, said it was Paula’s. Her name in the corner, surplus. The young cataloger performed her job, documented the crowd of little portraits of infants. Only when Paula’s pregnant nude graced the gallery wall, and the next births occurred, did the cataloguer attribute the nursery of tiny pictures to the “Workshop of Paula Modersohn-Becker.” Had all these ideas come to Paula before the fatal embolism, which killed her days after her only daughter was born? In her notoriety, the cataloger graduates to curator, and the infant miniatures spread Paula’s legacy around the globe, each child presenting her own humor, her own hues, yet so like her mother. ***

Self Portrait, Nude

Inspired by the paintings of Paula Modersohn-Becker The green backdrop, is not a forest— not a wall decorated with paper, but only color, such that she is never indoors or out, but forever of paint, forever smiling at you and herself. Around her undressed neck she wears a string of yellow. The loop drapes her chest. She smiles at you, who, when she painted, was herself. ***

Pamela Hobart Carter used to be a teacher who wrote on the side. Now she is a writer who teaches on the side. With Arleen Williams she wrote twelve short books in easy English for adults (for No Talking Dogs Press). Her plays have been read and produced in Seattle (where she lives), Montreal (where she grew up), and Fort Worth (where she has only visited). Many of her poems may be found at The Seattle Star.

Read more poetry on Bengaluru Review: “You must be proud of the scars”: Four poems by Cat Dixon “I remember my brother’s sudden screams”: Three poems by Yvonne Morris “Bones are not love-handles”: Four poems by Kuhu Joshi

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