by Ruth Bavetta
Alice Neel, 1980, oil on canvas

Eighty you are, Alice, planted
in a blue-striped chair, more naked
than nude. In one hand you hold a brush
like a baton, as if conducting your life,
in the other, a rag for wiping out mistakes.

Your breasts, like mine, droop
over an abdomen poured like a land slump
onto plump thighs. Pizza, pregnancies,
peanut butter, whiskey, long sweet afternoons
in the studio instead of in the gym.

Turkey neck, jowls, marriage, divorce,
paint under the fingernails. I see myself
with the same downturned mouth,
the same skeptical stare and wonder
how we got our bodies through it all.

You used to say an empty chair by the window
would be your only self portrait. Save
that chair for me, Alice. I’m drawing close.
Tell me how to come ashore.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My MFA is in Painting, so ekphrastic poetry is a natural for me. I wrote this after visiting a small Alice Neel retrospective a few years ago. It appears in my book, Fugitive Pigments, which is centered on art.

PAINTING: “Self-Portrait” by Alice Neel (1980).

PHOTOGRAPH: The author at home in a striped chair.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ruth Bavetta’s poems have been published in Rhino, Rattle, Nimrod, Tar River Poetry, North American Review, Spillway, Hanging Loose, Poetry East, and Poetry New Zealand, among many others, and are included in four anthologies. She has published two books, Embers on the Stairs (FutureCycle Press) and Fugitive Pigment (Moon Tide Press). Two more books, No Longer at this Address (Tebot Bach) and Flour, Water, Salt (FutureCycle Press) are forthcoming. She loves the light on November afternoons, the smell of the ocean, a warm back to curl against in bed. She hates pretense, fundamentalism, and sauerkraut.