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Outside the Door

         —After Bonnard's Dining Room in the Country


I am in Pierre Bonnard's dining room
in Vernonnet, and I don't want to leave.
It is commonplace and radiant.
The door fully open, both sides
of a casement window as well, light enters
like a neighbor, no need to knock, enlivening
the orange-red of the walls.
For an hour now I've been between worlds,
trying to figure why the blossoms outside
on a plum tree become the curtain's
pattern inside, or the curtain's pattern
the purple of the blossoms.
Even the door's threshold dissolves
into the colors of plum blossoms and curtains—
a step both into the outside
and into the colors of a girl's dress.

She is outside, though in the perspective
of the painting, she could be miles away.
Still, the opalescence of the opened door,
of the tablecloth and the cups and saucers
on the table, and even of a cat perched on a chair,
slide into one another, all leading to the girl,
barely visible, at the edge of a flowerbed
under a lustrous sky moving
toward sunset. Or is it sunrise?
And more—for no reason I can explain,
the girl, who truly is ghost-like, there and not there
depending on my angle of vision,
becomes my mother in an old photograph
I have of her as a girl. My mother,
dead now nearly two years, who has not
revisited me even in dream, is now
right outside the dining room where I am.

The girl seems exactly where she should be,
exactly where she needs to be,
even if Bonnard keeps me from knowing
where exactly that is. If I could speak to her,
she would answer in my mother's voice,
but she's sitting inside a magic circle
that no one, not even I, can enter,
even if some ongoing correspondence
seems to be taking place between
the pinkish-red dabs of color that compose
her face and the pinkish-blue color
of the flowers and the sky, and the purples
of the curtains that extend to
my mother's bluish-purple dress
and tip the blue-green mountains beyond her—
as if all these colors, so sensuous, so alive,
form a kind of unity, something like being
with my mother, but more shadowy,
a kind of peace from which I cannot get free.


Robert Cording

The Georgia Review

Summer 2017


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