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Vermeer: the Officer and the Laughing Girl

ISSUE:  Winter 1976
The girl kept her hands folded
and tried not to speak
until asked. The stories she seemed to love
least were of the sea —she wanted
to hear about the girls he held
captive, the ones he liked to keep. Her eyes
shone brightly against the tablecloth,
green against green. And she was taken
by his strong red coat and delicate
ruffles on his shirt, his arm poised
at a strange angle against his black hat.
And though she was simple in her desire
not to be desired, the map behind her
shoulder always led somewhere else —
when he pointed out a Dutch conquest,
his arm rested on top of hers, there was
nothing to be pointed to.

        The subject
would have to be changed. The light
was too strong in here, the open window
would let the birds in if they so chose.
But the stiff-back chair was not stiff
enough. A stilted laughter came out
of nowhere. Then she’d have to say
she had not always been this lonely,
nor would she later choose to be.
And if these meetings ended peacefully
before dinner, there were always evenings
to dream about, the backdrop of daylight
becoming slight against the window frame,
that certain shaking of shadow that
no matter how it fell would still be
felt, and would not later be explained.


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