Blame Vermeer

A woman of thirty pours the inch or so of milk
left in a jug, sets the jug high on a shelf
inside a small cupboard because the children
from next door are to stay the night, she’ll
not risk their picking at its precious glaze.
She takes her ring from beside the tap,
slips it back onto her third finger.
She hears steps on the path.
will happen after every painting for a long
time yet. It may have been war,
a sudden wrenching of implacable grief,
diseases arrived from the unburied,
children clattering in only days until
they are shunted east.
                               And the stranger
announcing, ‘There is something here,’ and her hand
on the lip first then the jug’s smooth curving,
it was lifted, so Jug & Woman
may have been the title again as it was and was
how many hundred times in that small 
kitchen, its imagined canvas, the deluging back
of ordinariness so lovely, to what can one
compare it? And the steps always arriving.
                               It will happen next.

Vincent O’Sullivan is a poet, fiction writer, playwright, biographer and critic. He has just finished work on volume five of The Collected Letters of Katherine Mansfield (Oxford: Clarendon Press) which will be out later this year.

O’Sullivan comments: ‘In recent years, I’ve been both drawn and puzzled by how one writes poems with political content or ideas without sounding like a preacher or a poster. “Blame Vermeer” is an attempt to come at it through a famous work of art. Everything the painting contains and represents is humane and decent – what war and violence inevitably destroy, and regard as “the enemy”. The details of the painting, and those one can imagine going with it, generate the images of what in turn threaten it. The very loveliness of the picture creates the fear of what destroys it, “what will happen next.” ’

Poem source details >



New Zealand Book Council writer file
Victoria University Press author page
New Zealand Electronic Text Centre: online work
See Vermeer’s Woman Pouring Milk