“. . . the questionable quality of light on her face. . . “

Mrs. Matisse's Hat

Mrs. Matisse’s Hat

An old friend (she was old then, and 1985 was the last time I saw her) used to say, “There’s no accounting for taste.” She was usually wondering why some young stud was (apparently) coupled with a woman who was not his equal. She never bothered to wonder why a beautiful young woman was with a bubba.

She had been secretary to the president of a New England university (I won’t say which one on the infinitesimal chance someone might know her). In fact, she had been secretary to more than one president of the institution.  She loved to say she “had served under five presidents” with the twinkle in her eye that could mean only that she thought she was making a double entendre. By the time I knew her she was no catch, believe me, except for her razor-sharp tongue.

Of course, she’s right that there is no accounting for taste.

The Kimbell Art Museum in Ft. Worth—I’m always amazed (still, after nearly 20 years here) that one of the premier art museums in the country is in “cowtown”—currently has an exhibition, “The Age of Picasso and Matisse.” It’s a tiny percent of the paintings of that time from the Art Institute of Chicago. Of course, I went to see it and plan to go back and spend an entire afternoon looking at about a half dozen of the paintings.

I have no idea where I got my taste for Matisse. It seems highly unlikely. His work is so brash and colorful that it hardly seems an introvert and living-in-his-head type like me would find his stuff interesting at all. My taste for Matisse began sometime in the far distant past, and his “Woman with a Hat” is the painting I always think of when I hear his name. I think I must have seen it decades ago at the San Francisco Art Institute when I wasn’t paying attention to much of anything because I was a young(ish) gay drunk.

Shall we "Dance?"

Shall we “Dance?”

At any rate, the “Woman with a Hat” was not in the Kimbell exhibit because she lives in San Francisco and not Chicago.

The more’s the pity. When I was at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg this summer (there, is that impressive, or what?) and the guide told us we had an hour (or some length of time) to see the museum on our own—right, The Hermitage in an hour (a year might do)—I went directly to the Matisse room. The best Matisse the Hermitage has is “Dance.” OMG, I love that painting!

At any rate, I was Googling Matisse and “Woman with a Hat” sometime after my visit to Cowtown a couple of months ago, and I found the poem  “Why knowing is (& Matisse’s Woman with a Hat),” by Martha Ronk. I’ve been meaning for a long time to Google Martha, but haven’t had time. I don’t need to Google the woman with a hat because I’ve looked her up before. My favorite thing about her (besides her hat) is that Gertrude Stein once owned her. That and the fact she’s actually Matisse’s wife.

Two days ago my surgeon’s assistant said to me in an email, “But if it is affecting your quality of life, Dr. Thornton can surgically repair the problem.  We can proceed either way you choose.  Let me know what you think.” He had reason to say it because the minute we scheduled surgery on my left shoulder, the pain began to lessen. That was, I suppose, predictable. I’ve lived with this pain through all through 2013 (and before). It was one reason I stopped going to yoga classes (just do a Down Dog when your shoulder feels like it’s ripping out of the socket). And much else—working out with my trainer using only my legs and core (what there is of it).

So finally I scheduled surgery with Dr. Miracle Worker (his name after he fixed my hip—and I mean fixed it: the pain was gone when I woke up and has never returned, and I never took one of the pain pills they gave me), and immediately my shoulder began feeling as if it was all a big mistake and there’s no reason even to poke the little arthroscopic holes in it that Dr. Miracle Worker makes.

So his assistant says “quality of life,” and I don’t know what that means. I suppose picking up a 20-pound container of kitty litter in Kroger with my left hand without thinking and dropping it because of the shooting pain in my shoulder is a tiny diminishment of the quality of my life.

I don’t know for sure.

There’s no accounting for taste.

And somehow I remembered Martha Ronk’s poem (I don’t remember anything these days, so my taste for Matisse must have over-ridden my “sometimer’s disease”) because she poetizes about “quality.” I guess it’s because I copied the poem into a Word document for safe keeping (on this old computer?) and have read it several times. “. . . and not remembering who knows or recognizing the questionable quality of light on her face. . . “ The questionable quality of light on her face somehow morphed into the questionable quality of life on my shoulder.

What one does at the Hermitage. At least these folks are my friends.

What one does at the Hermitage. At least these folks are my friends.

So if the surgery were scheduled for Tuesday, I’d insist on talking to Dr. Miracle Worker on Monday to see if the quality of life on my shoulder is questionable enough to go ahead. But since it’s Monday at 7 AM, I guess the only way to stop it is to not show up.

The poll is open. What do you think?

If you followed me from serving under the president of the University of Maine to wondering whether or not to show up for surgery, you are exactly the person whose opinion I trust.
.
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“Why knowing is (& Matisse’s Woman with a Hat)”
by Martha Ronk

Why knowing is a quality out of fashion and no one can decide to
but slips into it or ends up with a painting one has never
seen that quality of light before even before having seen it
in between pages of another book and not remembering who knows
or recognizing the questionable quality of light on her face
as she sits for a portrait and isn’t allowed to move an inch
you recognize the red silk flower on her hat
and can almost place where you have seen that gray descending
through the light reversing foreground and background
as the directions escape one as the way you have to
live with anyone as she gets up finally from her chair
having written the whole of it in her head as the question
ignored for the hundredth time as a quality of knowing is
oddly resuscitated from a decade prior to this.

One Response to “. . . the questionable quality of light on her face. . . “

  1. Pingback: ‘. . . Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers. . .’ | Me, senescent

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