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Shown from the knees up, a woman with peach-colored skin and dark hair sits facing us and holding a baby in this stylized, vertical portrait painting. The woman’s features are elongated and simplified, and the nearly geometric forms are outlined with gray. Loose brushstrokes are visible throughout, creating a textured, mottled effect. The woman’s long, thin face comes to a point at her chin, and her brown hair is pulled back on either side of her forehead. She has pale blue eyes, an exaggeratedly long nose, noticeably flushed cheeks, and her coral-pink, bow lips are closed. Her white blouse has a wide, tomato-red, squared collar that lies over her shoulders, and a thin, light blue scarf drapes around her neck and down her chest. Her long, full skirt is blended shades of violet purple and sky blue. The woman’s hands are clasped around a baby wrapped in a navy-blue blanket. The baby’s head is covered with a long pink cap with black and white bands at each end. The woman casts a narrow shadow against the gray wall behind her. Bands of elephant gray, black, and brown behind her across the bottom of the composition suggest an abstracted bench or seat she sits on. The artist signed the work in dark letters near the upper left corner: “Modigliani.”

Amedeo Modigliani, Roma Woman with Baby, 1919, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection, 1963.10.174

That Bright  

Heid E. Erdrich

It's not the broken slat 
at the window drawing  
an angle of light in my eyes 
but as bright as that   
and as sudden - my look 
the look I gave.  
I don't get it 
either I see too much  
or do not see at all 
or overflow with sea 
all aquamarine. I hear 
theory and critique.   
But what overflows here? 
Me my child patient  
in my lap 
a weight   
so your  
eyes slide  
down my  
impossible neck.   
Then it's all skirt - less me 
more of the blue of his 
childhood seaside. I won’t  
miss him. I saw what he did.  
You would think I’d be restless 
but it's quiet here and cool. 
I'm happy enough to represent 
though you’d be surprised   
how little I know. 
You view Roma from such 
distance. And they see 
there's nothing Roma in me.  
Just the passion of painters 
and poets trying to catch  
who they think we might be.  
Here hold my shawl.  
I'm stepping out now and you 
you can stop talking through me.  

    She is right  
    She’s right 
    I am   
    I’m right 
    But what to do   
    with all the knowledge,  
    myth, slurred names?  
    A god saw the boredom 
    of the poor and gave them  
    Doma, caste of dancers 
    and musicians on the move. 
    What to do with the words? 
    Isolate - the frost in background.   
    Haplogroup- the absent gold. 
    This light is cool and you know 
    red leaps in but cannot escape  
    a baby’s weight a motherless child   
    the real her                   the model  
    the artists lover         pregnant again 
    doomed to sudden grief and suicide  
    that will kill their second child.   

        This painting one of his last 
        I think of him ill               abusive 
        addicted to women     their forms 
        faces with nothing to offer her  
        but an exquisitely thin blue scarf  
        a red collared sailor dress   
        a child     a shadow  

                            his own mad beauty   
                            as it met her smile 
                            that look     that bright  
                                                      that eye she gave.


Please note: We have tried to preserve the formatting of poems, but some devices may distort how text appears. Read the poem in its original formatting here.

Heid E. Erdrich

An enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe, Erdrich is an educator, curator, interdisciplinary artist, and guest curator at the Mead Art Museum of Amherst College

September 01, 2023