“A Triptych: Visibile Parlare in Sotto Voce” by Hedy Habra

A Triptych,

       Visibile Parlare in Sotto Voce


I. What the Painter Hears

A Song from the Viennese, Whispered to Klimt


You wanted our encounter to be a ritual,

         planned every detail:

                Ivy circled your hair,

        I interlaced mine

      with violets and jasmine.

Wrapped in a diaphanous sarong,

    I stood by the bed of forget-me-nots.

             You held me

against your silk kimono,

              the sun’s folded wings framed us

        in its golden coin.

Losing my balance, I fell on my knees,

       clinging to you,

              my arm around your bent shoulder.

Eyes closed, I could see your hands

             cupped around my face

as if holding a precious porcelain.

      I pressed my toes

             against the ground

   afraid we’d sink

              into the abyss,

both trapped within one trunk,

                one womb,

as if  you were my own

        and I, mother earth bearing fruit,

                  merging our beginnings.

Let me become that space

       between your palms,

the mark of your lips on my cheek.


II. The Artist as Voyeur

                              Schiele’s Glimpse at Love


I want them to hold each other as if it were their last embrace.

It is unusual, I know, for anyone to witness such fiery tenderness

but long to see desire itself as I’ve always dreamt it,

not as I saw it in eyes saddened by layers of Kohl and mascara.

Isn’t it what the child in us seeks,

to be one with the primal act of one’s conception?

I want to forget the circled eyes of children consumed

by their own fire, their pupil, the color of pain and loneliness…

So I tell my models not to delay this embrace.  They undress clumsily,

hug each other so tightly they can’t breathe.  His arms pressed

around her waist crush her, yet she should not feel the pain,

for what is pain if not of longing, or letting go?

I want her hair to cascade in deep green over the white folds

of wrinkled sheets framing their face: let it fall on the nape of his neck,

let him sense her sweet fragrance.  I want him to wish he’d drown

in their dark waters, in the depths of scenes rushing into his mind,

of her of him of them of then of now all at once.


I want to be part of his vision, wish I could paint myself in his place,

feel images flow from her skin to mine.  I turn the hour hand back,

and over moonless waters in the darkness of a womblike warmth,

I glimpse my own reflection in their desire,

the desire of myself dissolving time and space.



Her fingers run over his shoulder, digging nails into his flesh

as if writing on clay, a clay I have become, for I know too well how

she remodels his chin, his lips, his cheekbone, her fingertips rest

in the crease of his earlobe, giving me time to paint, to imagine how

she remodels my chin, my lips, my cheekbone, her fingertips resting

in the crease of my earlobe as I draw myself onto them                                                   


My back overlaps his, as my body and hers become one

with every stroke.  She forgets him, a mere screen for this séance

to take place.  He whispers through her hair, but I know

she only hears my brushstrokes thrusting her face into her shoulder

as if trying to silence her, forcing her to bite her own flesh.

I know she will later read my unwritten words on the canvas

but does she notice how his voice is now covered by the sound of my brush? 

I paint myself as I paint them, a day at a time, my words suffused

in linseed oil muffle even their thoughts, seep through sheets,

beneath wavy curls, fold white curves around her body, between her legs.

She opens up like a flower offering more surfaces to the wind.

As I press the tip of the brush, I hear them think in Braille.

My palette feels heavier, the session is over. They dress up

like empty shells, leave me facing Us in a visibile parlare

She and I, in such an embrace, I will never recapture.

 III.  Before the Storm

            The Wind Trapped by Kokoshka, Rests by his Bride



He lies eyes wide-open, brows tense,

lips pressed together,

his rugged hands

knotted over his belly as if in pain.

They have just made love,

their bodies’ tide lulled her to sleep,

and soon, they’d be swept away

in a whirlwind…

yet she sleeps unaware,

lost in enchanted woods

while he senses the gust      miles away,

hears murmurs      in the thickets,

feels ripples formed

by frightened wings.

Head leaning on his shoulder,

a closed fist against his chest,

her dreams speak in tongues …

in her faint smile…

under her lowered eyelids.

He remembers how she’d wait for him:

in the clearings    at her doorstep,

by the circular fountain

beneath tall beech trees.

He’d watch her read omens

in their bark’s charcoaled eyes,

outline her profile…

               a medallion in evening sepia,

see her dress     tremble

at the slightest breeze

he’d enter the courtyard,

rush through dark corridors…

drape himself with her smell

till she’d bend under his weight.

As though lying in tall branches,

they feel the rustle of leaves,

the sway of sycamores, imposing pines.

He has to leave without looking back,

join forces with the North wind,

break the reflection captured in her eyes.

Could he ever explain he was just

the substance of her dreams?                            

She would wake up soon…

the fury of the storm deafening,

its call      irresistible,

erasing the mirage of her shadow…

He thinks of getting up but cannot move,

          the painter’s gaze anchoring him by her side.


( Originally appeared in Museum Views: Art Info and whenever reprinted Museum Views: Art Info )

Hedy Habra, born and raised in Egypt, is of Lebanese origin. She holds and MA and MFA in English, and an MA and PhD in Spanish Literature from Western Michigan University where she currently teaches. Her poetry and fiction in French Spanish and English have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including Drunken Boat, Puerto del Sol, The New York Quarterly, Cider Press Review, Nimrod, Poet Lore, Cutthroat, Inclined to Speak, Dinarzad’s Children Second Edition and Poetic Voices Without Borders Vol 2. She is the author of a collection of stories, Flying Carpets (March Street Press 2012); a collection of poetry, Tea in Heliopolis (Press 53, 2013) and a book of literary criticism, Mundos alternos y artísticos en Vargas Llosa (Iberoamericana 2012).

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