the broadside series


Blue Fifth Review
Volume IX. Issue 3
July 2009

Jill Crammond Wickham
( New York )

poem & comment

Therese Berard, Oil on Canvas: A Still-life Speaks

I am painted in darkest blue.
I am Therese Berard.
I am an oil on canvas.

I am one of Renoir’s women.
His name in the corner, demure.
My face in front, displayed.

We hang together from
museum walls, these women
and I. Still-lives, suspended.

His hands framed us. 

Created. His hands
and a whorl of midnight

oils bathe my portrait,
my presence, binding me to
the page. Oil on canvas.

It seals me. I am a royal study. 
Navy brush strokes fold
over me, catch my shoulders, press

me onto the page. They
stain the creases of my starched
sailor dress, leave my lace a pale,

shapeless gray, leave my eyes
a pair of dead Forget-me-nots.
I am darkened.

I am darkness.
Closer, beneath the shadow
of my blues, you can see how

I was spackled into being.
I am his Therese.
I am oil on canvas.


Link to painting by Auguste Renoir: Portrait de Thérèse Bérard (1879)

Wickham comments on her poem:

I never set out to write a poem about Therese Berard. Rather, she hitched a ride on the back of my boyfriend’s motorcycle and followed us all the way home from The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Massachusetts. Her voice was louder and bolder than the beautiful Berkshire mountains rolling past, so loud, in fact, I had to ask my driver to pull over so I could write it all down.

I left the museum that day planning to write a poem for every one of Renoir’s women, to free them from their oil on canvas “shackles” by giving each woman and child a voice. Still, it was only Therese, with her sad eyes and her heavy blue canvas, that spoke to me. While it has gone through some minor revisions (and the boyfriend is long gone), this poem came nearly full-blown in the wild whip of air passing through my motorcycle helmet. I can only assume Therese needed her voice to be heard. I hope I heard correctly.

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