Lynne Knight

The Muse of the Actual

She’d hate it if her mother were proved right—
that having her, he’d never leave his wife.
We were sitting on the back deck, looking
at the apple trees, that had fluttered white
a week ago, but now were green and plain.

We blew our black tea cool while she told me
the other day he’d sat where I was sitting,
to paint the hill, the trees, and, so she would
think of him each time she looked, a bull,
pawing a fallen apple in the foreground.

I guess you could call it a self-portrait,
she laughed, and went laughing to get it
from her bedroom, then propped it against
the deck rail in the shade of the grape trellis
so we could sit looking back and forth

from the painted hill to the actual,
identical except for the bull, who did
resemble him, hunched forward, restless.
He does that, she said after a while.
Sort of paws around. I mean with me.

She swirled her tea and sipped.
Sometimes it’s like he’s still painting.
Smudging things. His tongue
working away like a brush—his tongue
and other things. I keep thinking

I should ask if he sees me as fallen.
A sigh. The truth is I like being
the muse. He hadn’t painted for years.
Now love had restored his desire.
Her own desire was never so intense

as in the moment he drove off again,
back to the wife in Ithaca. Talk about
myth, she said. I stared at the bull,
half expecting it to turn into him, 
burst through the canvas, wild with love

for her and willing to forsake the world
to prove it. But I knew the world
was closer to her mother’s version.
Whatever the miracles of art, the bull
would stay put, like the laws of the actual.