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.