In Preparation

Poem by Jeanne Marie Beaumont

Gustav Courbet, The Preparation of the Dead Girl, c. 1850-54

 

after Gustave Courbet

 

Save me—I’m caught in a net of quandary.

No sooner am I dressed than I am being taken

out of my clothes. Or are they helping me

into them? It appears I am being attired

for marriage, one of death’s deft hands.

 

Around me a clutch of women painted stuck like doors:

forever two hoist a sheet (some say a shroud),

one is drying or bathing my feet, another

brings a tureen to the table, or is she removing it?

The problem is art’s, but I’m in the midst.

 

Stockings, victuals, so-called shroud—all for me?

These women, are they what I was and will be?

Am I victim? Being prepped to be gazed at?

For some prone position? For a him?

Help me. It appears I can’t go forward or

 

backward. I’m awkward. Unfinished. I hold

a mirror as though approaching a gorgon,

a mirror that only I can look in. I have heard

the dead cannot face mirrors, nor can

the dead keep a mirror up. There. Breath.

 

I fog it with my breath. Oh, what is this sound—

stiff brushes turning into baffled hisses . . .

how my depiction’s deemed “mysterious.” But, isn’t

everyone’s? This miss tells two sure things:  I’m to be wed.

My paint is drying.  Guess whether I am dead or dying.