after the painting by Robert McGill Mackall
I come into the parlor
at three o’clock, the sun angling in
through the great front bay.
My throat constricts with joy.
There is my mother,
seated at the piano. Her fingers
barely curve above the keys.
She is slender, young,
utterly absorbed by what she will
commit to the air,
to the curtains it moves,
to my ears so suddenly ripe.
Flowers like loosestrife
droop in their vase.
My mother is seated in light.
I am so slight, eleven years old,
in shadows that tremble to orchid, to blue.
She doesn’t see me.
Her spine is straight.
Her wrists are level, her fingers still.
The flowers, languid, droop.
My forgotten heart
refuses to beat that second before
her fingers touch the keys.
This is art. Always the same.
The two of us poised together
on the edge of a waltz by Brahms.
© by Phebe Davidson.
Used with the author’s permission.
The Brahms Waltz, by Robert McGill MacKall,1923.
Oil on canvas, 32 x 40 inches.
This image courtesy of the Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, Georgia,
where the painting is on permanent display.