—after Johannes Vermeer’s painting,
“Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window,” c. 1657

Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window by Vermeer

Some say yellow is for lovers.

I say every day this girl
clothes herself in raiment, yellow silk
and midnight blue, binds up her hair,
to read again in yellow light at end of day

his letter, crumpled now
for he is far away this too-long time.

The shining yellow curtain that reflects
the twilight lends some privacy
or even holiness. But see

how the russet drape over
and darkly behind the window
to permit the wayward wind
frames her ghosted face
and white cotton chemise as if

we see inside. The wan sadness
barely evident around her eyes,
distracts our gaze
from the shadow at her nape.

Does she move her lips to keep
the words enlivened on her breath?
He says his skin is turning brown
from eating figs. It is a joke.

What if love is easy there?
Ink begins to fade from so much reading.

He was a boy with a sweet
French name. The skin of his belly
smooth as broth.

What began as simple pleasure
in their bodies, ripens now
the way these fruits have ripened,
huddled in the bowl. She
has eaten half a peach and left
the better half, its pit exposed,
like a votive candle, for his return.

Women who wait like this
might bring a journey, even war, to end
with their unwavering prayers.
Lord knows, they pay.

from The Vermeer Suite by Daniel Lusk