Friday, January 22, 2010

Girl Writing a Letter, a poem by William Carpenter.

Post 413 - Born and raised in New England, William Carpenter earned his B.A. from Dartmouth and a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. He began publishing poetry in 1976, and won the Associated Writing Program’s Contemporary Poetry Award in 1980. In 1985 he received the Samuel French Morse Prize and a National Endowment for the Arts grant. He moved to Maine in 1972 to help found the College of the Atlantic, a school dedicated to human ecology and the environment, where he remains a faculty member.

He remembers in the fifth grade, moving to a mill town in central Maine. “Most of the neighbors were taught by nuns in the parochial schools. I was the first protestant they'd ever seen, and they had to ask the mother superior if they could play with me. ‘You can,’ the nun told them, ‘but don't get too attached to him. He'll be going to hell.’"

Girl Writing a Letter by William Carpenter

A thief drives to the museum in his black van. The night
watchman says Sorry, closed, you have to come back tomorrow.
The thief sticks the point of his knife in the guard's ear.
I haven't got all evening, he says, I need some art.
Art is for pleasure, the guard says, not possession, you can't
something, and then the duct tape is going across his mouth.
Don't worry, the thief says, we're both on the same side.
He finds the Dutch Masters and goes right for a Vermeer:
"Girl Writing a Letter." The thief knows what he's doing.
He has a Ph.D. He slices the canvas on one edge from
the shelf holding the salad bowls right down to the
square of sunlight on the black and white checked floor.
The girl doesn't hear this, she's too absorbed in writing
her letter, she doesn't notice him until too late. He's
in the picture. He's already seated at the harpsichord.
He's playing the G Minor Sonata by Domenico Scarlatti,
which once made her heart beat till it passed the harpsichord
and raced ahead and waited for the music to catch up.
She's worked on this letter for three hundred and twenty years.
Now a man's here, and though he's dressed in some weird clothes,
he's playing the harpsichord for her, for her alone, there's no one
else alive in the museum. The man she was writing to is dead -
time to stop thinking about him - the artist who painted her is dead.
She should be dead herself, only she has an ear for music
and a heart that's running up the staircase of the Gardner Museum
with a man she's only known for a few minutes, but it's
true, it feels like her whole life. So when the thief
hands her the knife and says you slice the paintings out
of their frames, you roll them up, she does it; when he says
you put another strip of duct tape over the guard's mouth
so he'll stop talking about aesthetics, she tapes him, and when
the thief puts her behind the wheel and says, drive, baby,
the night is ours, it is the Girl Writing a Letter who steers
the black van on to the westbound ramp for Storrow Drive
and then to the Mass Pike, it's the Girl Writing a Letter who
drives eighty miles an hour headed west into a country
that's not even discovered yet, with a known criminal, a van
full of old masters and nowhere to go but down, but for the
Girl Writing a Letter these things don't matter, she's got a beer
in her free hand, she's on the road, she's real and she's in love.

By the way, can anyone tell me the year that William Carpenter was born?


Anonymous said...

I've loved this poem since first I read it, fifteen years ago. Thanks for postin it.

Anonymous said...

But I really don't understand the poem. Can you explain the meaning of the poem. I really don't understand most of modern poetry, but somehow I love them.

DL said...

The poem is in "The Best American Poetry 1995." The author was born in 1940.