Fall 2009, Volume 7

Poetry by Susan Beem
Eleven A.M.
        (on a painting by Edward Hopper of same title)

Ed, why were you so insensitive to this naked woman?
I admit, you did toss some golden light at her
your edgy sun, steeply descending as if from heaven.
But I could see the tall, claustrophobic courtyard
beyond her window, and knew this light
was only temporary, that most of her life’s hours
were spent in the funereal depths of your major palette.

As long as you were experimenting with light
and shadow, why not show this woman’s face?
You definitely made her cry. Yes, Ed, I found that tiny
nose, red as a berry. You never could paint tears,
so you hid her expression behind thick chestnut hair
and intentionally veiled that irregular fold of skin,
where her right breast used to be, in the shadow of her arm.
I would wager that none of your models had scars.

Why did you have to give her such a schmuck
for a boyfriend, that guy who couldn’t accept flaws
in himself or others, that jerk who ran away, brushing
the black drapery, leaving heavy cloth to swing,
metallic rings to rasp against the rod?
Why couldn’t you have given her a lover excited
by her speckled eyes and strong thighs,
her humor and intelligence, her rosy vulva,
her magnificent left breast?

Why didn’t you give her an apartment higher
in the building, where sunlight could enter at a lower
angle, reaching all the way to her passion-tossed bed
falling on the curves of lovers, his one hand
gently resting on her altered chest,
one leg thrown across her hips, his lips
at her ear, whispering? 

Was this too much softness for your brush? 
Why did you have to remind her, and me
of the pain of our scars, the self-consciousness
that starts before the first touch of scalpel,
the tenuousness of physical intimacy,
our risk in reaching for love?

And, why those damned shoes on her naked feet, Ed?
Was it be mere laziness on your part, after long hours spent
meticulously painting the combination of tension and resignation
in her hands, the tight curl of one hand around a palm,
the relaxed fingers of the other?  Or were the shoes
and that patch of gaudy green carpet a distraction
from the aching sorrow in this portrait?
Were the shoes a partial apology for her nudity, or symbolic
of the confusion that accompanies grief?
By putting shoes on her feet
were you telling me that she was about to step
through that open window
into angled air?


BIO: Susan Beem is a retired family physician and breast cancer survivor who woke up to the world of poetry at a time of crisis. She continues to study poetry at Long Beach Community college and participates in several writing workshops.