“Vermeer’s ‘Woman Reading a Letter at an Open Window'”, Nick Lantz

by Abner Dormiendo

“If I said yes, that would then suggest that that might be the only place where it might be done which would not be accurate, necessarily accurate. It might also not be accurate, but I’m disinclined to mislead anyone.”

— Donald Rumsfeld

I think it must always be the same
light in Vermeer’s paintings, here
a girl laughing at an officer’s joke,
a geographer pausing to look up
from his maps, a woman practicing
the lute, her fingers curled around
the neck, its body pressed to hers.

The light always falls from the left.
The window may have many panes
or few, the room bigger or smaller.

Vermeer’s light fools you. It comes
from a world outside the window,
outside the painting, a world greater
than the sleepy canals of Delft.

Here is my desk, the window to my
left, but where is the light Vermeer
saw? I look outside and see a hawk
swooping for rabbits in the yard,
the municipal mowers trimming
the median grass, a parking lot
that fills and empties like a lung.

My wife looks at these paintings
and says that many of the women
are pregnant. Here, she points,
the woman’s waist, how the dress
is unbelted? I grow impatient.
What about the light? I say. I want
to say that Vermeer has painted
these men and women only to give
the light something to fall against.
Instead we argue for hours about
whether the women are pregnant.

I want to believe in a room filled
with Vermeer’s light, the world
outside the room that glows so
warmly, the people who spend
all day gathered by the window.

When my wife and I reconcile,
we’re lying together on the couch
late at night. The blinds are drawn.
The only light comes from the TV.

Here is a woman reading a letter
by an open window. She’s nearing
the letter’s end—some news, good
or bad, from the impossible world
outside. Here are her small hands,
the curled paper, an overturned
bowl of fruit, the same light falling.

(from We Don’t Know We Don’t Know, Graywolf Press)

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