Stephen Cushman


Woman with the Arrow
Rembrandt, 1661

Without a union for working nude models
of northern Europe in the seventeenth century,
could they insist on no long sittings
except in summers or other warm spells?

Or maybe they came tougher then,
skin unshaved and rarely bathed
giving each woman more insulation,
which when combined with a fire nearby,
and her few extra pounds of calories stored up,
could make conditions almost cozy.

Sure, that’s it. And if she’s also
the master’s mistress, no marathon session,
no matter how chilly before central heating,
consists of all work

posing in a yoga twist,
head going one way, torso another,
legs still another with a foot on the floor
at the edge of the bed and the arrow held up,
perhaps because arrows held toward the ceiling

enhance digestion or ward off bad dreams
or help one forget how cold the room feels

two years later when Hendrickje’s dead,
he’s widowed again, and all that remains
of her hips and buttocks, thighs and feet

acid incised in a copper plate
after the burin had stripped off her shape
from a ground of bitumen, beeswax, and resin.



Stephen Cushman is Robert C. Taylor Professor of English at UVA. His last book of poems, Heart Island, was published by David Robert in Fall 2006, and his next, Riffraff, will be published by LSU. He is serving as general editor of the next edition of the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, now in progress.


Published in Volume 10, Number 1, Winter 2009.