I’m often mistaken for an unhappier woman – though
in the Metropolitan’s Dutch wing, I crack a smile
at Maes’ painting of a young mother quietly sewing
lace. I know why she’s looking down so intently
at the white threads in her lap: Her toddler boy,
himself encased in lace, and seated in a wooden
high chair elaborate as a baptismal font, steadies
his pacifier and ball like stones ready to go over
a bridge. It’s supposed to be a picture of maternal
bliss (Maes himself was a family man) – yet I see
the tornado looking out the boy’s eyes. As a mother,
I know. The ceramic porringer she placed near his chair
already has caught a silver cup and rattle. Even that,
too placed. I wonder if after his next flings, and then
his bawls, she’ll line his things on his tray or let him
wail. Because I have allowed the sob, then felt that
socking cry-fail-cry-fail-cry-fail rhythm in my belly.
I don’t see that exalting touch of painters’ light flooding
seventeenth-century rooms to hymn bread-making
or letter writing. You can tell it’s a dim morning
from the joyless light on the floor boards. And she
must be a mother of one, I think, as I consider her white
cap, collar and apron, unstained, unwrinkled. Maybe
her husband commissioned Maes to record his bride
and first-born son in this way, the way many men
enshrined their wives. Yet here, the painter caught
her, how she focuses too hard on her lace, waiting
on the next thud and squall, and how the boy knows he
is master. He has bridled her already. And I know this:
For a long time, she won’t remember the girl she was
years ago, when she threw rattles arcing in light,
laughing at how clean, how perfect that light really was.

Nicole Rollender