Looking for Vermeer by Ruth Mark, from Issue #1

Looking for Vermeer

In search of Vermeer
they pointed the car in the
direction of Delft, got out
after finally finding
a parking place – right beside
the windmill, under the
bridge, and walked
following the drums and
caterwauling of the street
music – an organized, yet
chaotic gathering of Heineken-
swilling kids in t-shirts
and grown-out fringes, men
with goatees and shorts.

Periwinkle blue sky
softened with pink and
grey and green clouds –
clouds were never
white, not if you looked
at them properly, not if
you studied them with
a painter’s eyes, not when
the paints were expensive
the white formed from ground
bone, linseed oil and a
great deal of elbow grease.
Not when you had a family
to feed that was growing
almost by the year
and the house was almost
coming apart at the seams.

They turned a corner
just by the church and
came to the first canal –
a disappointing mud-colored
strip of sorry-looking
dishwater, slop-water,
shit and grit and
not blue. In no way
was the water blue,
yet it was glassy, mirror-like
not a ripple, no barges,
boats, or any manner of
water traffic on it
no source of ripples
no kids to throw stones
in, no milk maids or
girls with earrings
to dip pails into, draw
water to wash clothes in;
your clothes and theirs.

A line of Delft pottery
tile of all hues, blue on white
of course but some more
modern than others in
their gloss, their brightness
their uniformity. They
could tell which ones
had been hand-painted,
which ones pressed on
pictures reproduced in
their hundreds, thousands
perhaps. They wondered if
you ever stopped to
admire the tiles or if
they were below you,
you, the master painter
who painted to order
for all your rich neighbors
a slave to their whims
a whipping boy or a
shrewd businessman
looking to make a quick buck?

And then they saw
A plaque declaring you
existed. That you had lived here
high up on a wall embedded.
They’d have missed it had
they not stopped for coffee.
Delft remembers you in a
plaque, countless reproductions
of your more famous paintings
found these days on everything
from t-shirts, to mugs to
toilet lids. Would you have
approved? Seen the profit
margin, the investment? Or
would you have despaired,
felt you’d sold yourself
to the people, diluted
your talent somehow?

They’d come looking for
Vermeer and found him –
in the colors of the sky,
the clouds, the cobbled
streets, the very air,
tangible, yet elusive
but there just the same
in Delft that water washed day.

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