James Longenbach reads
The Iron Key
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Mrs. Hunter is the only name I have for her, A rich old woman who engaged my father, a painter, To document her collection of keys. Photographs she considered vulgar. She lived in a mansard carriage house, painted black. While my father made paintings of the keys I made drawings of the house— The Chinese parasol in a backlit case, A sheikh’s robe draped across the dining room table, under glass. I added things that should have been there, a harpsichord. I deleted what seemed mysteriously out of place. Once, after I fell against my father’s palette, He had to scrub the paint from my hair. Not to make things was idleness. The house contained things to be made. Not raw material: material that bore Heavily the impression of having been used, worn, Made previously into other things— Like the house itself, once a place for horses, Now the visible confirmation of what I knew by instinct But had never seen: that only strange things could be beautiful. McNamara, Westmoreland—outside the war was on. Her house was where I lived in my mind. For a time, I thought I’d be a painter too. Then I thought perhaps a musician. When I first saw San Simeone Piccolo Floating across the Grand Canal, I stepped into my mind. I bought Mrs. Hunter a key.