“The poem itself is original, offering a fascinating, image-rich interpretation of the painting and transcending the simple device of the picture-description poem."

Ann Chisholm, Poet and Judge, David St John Thomas/Writers’ News Awards 2003

The Milkmaid by Vermeer

It's the bread I notice first,
gnarled hunks of speckled brown and white
basking in the revelatory glory
from the barred hint of window high up on the left.
In the clear stream of light, each crust looks alive,
something I could reach out to and take.
I want to crumble the earthy softness between my fingers,
releasing the heady scent of yeast into the Summer air,
and taste on my lips the warmth of the Low Country sun;
vibrant, wholesome.

Even as I think these things I know
as if someone had spoken the words aloud
that the woman I face would not permit it.
Right now she is pouring the steady froth of milk
from the deep cavern of an earthenware jug,
her strong arms blushed creamy-pink against the blue of her apron.
She looks down, intent on her task
as if it is the only action taking place in the universe.

And for her perhaps it is.
For the sun is her corn-yellow bodice
and the moon a pure cotton covering for her head,
her eyes like stars, unburnished in the day
but at night an epiphany.
Around her, the mesmerising echoes of a life:
a footwarmer; a kettle; a linen basket.

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