William Merritt Chase. Broken Jug. c. 1876. Oil on canvas, 61 1/16 x 25 in. (155.1 x 63.5 cm.) Given by Dr. and Mrs. Donald Houghton Hooker, in Loving Memory of Dr. and Mrs. Donald Russell Hooker
The Broken Jug
After William Merritt Chase
Look, sweet one, how she is obeying
a bargain not to be still life
How she’s been posed on the verge of speaking
yet kept silent; I don’t wish this for you.
Look, here the artist abandoned alabaster
for an earthen jug, simple clay, the color of us,
and the hills behind nearly bruised to black
set on horizon as if in the past
we must remember. Knuckle on knuckle,
that’s not the grasp of prayer. Her broken heirloom
that midwifed milk, wine watered down, whatever
drowns thirst, left on the road like a baby
doll after a war. Look, little one, how she will not
look at us. Unease on wooden shoes painted
a potato’s yellow. She’s never heard the word bastard
until a moment before dropping her jug. I imagine
her peeling potatoes down to white
while her father scrapes black ice
tobacco from his pipe, her mother dying
this scrap cloth a dull yellow
to wrap her newly womaned waist.
That wisp of a headband more red than watermelon flesh.
Steven Leyva was born in New Orleans, Louisiana and raised in Houston, Texas. His poems have appeared in The Fiddleback, The Light Ekphrastic, The Cobalt Review, and Little Patuxent Review. He is a Cave Canem fellow, the winner of the 2012 Cobalt Review Poetry Prize, editor of the Little Patuxent Review, and author of the chapbook Low Parish. Steven holds a MFA from the University of Baltimore, where he teaches in the undergraduate writing program.
This poem by Baltimore-based poet Steven Leyva was written in response to William Merritt Chase’ Broken Jug, c. 1876. We welcome guest writers to our online discussions of art of the modern era, from the 19th century to the present. If you are a local creative writer who has been inspired by a work of art in the BMA’s collection, and would like the opportunity to be published on the BMA Blog, email BMASocial@artbma.org.