Four Corners and a Void

       After The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, 1882
       by John Singer Sargent

 

Four sisters are alone
in a room, the ceiling propped up
by Japanese vases,
their porcelain tops blooming out
into mahogany dark.

A doll lays in the lap
of the youngest, but it still
feels like something is missing—
it’s more real than a photograph,
that sad opening of children’s eyes—
none of them seem to belong
to their bodies.

And in the gloom of this
delicate container, almost out
of focus, the eldest leans on
the vases’ blue and white,
exposing her profile while
dragons and nightingales float
in a slow, unrecoverable spin
against the small of her back.

One critic called it four corners
and a void, and the name stuck.
Why paint real loneliness,
he asked, onto these faces
and into this room,
when it’s something we
will never believe?


Sarah Bartlett grew up in both Colorado and Oregon. She received her B.A. from the University of Oregon and her M.F.A. from Emerson College in Boston. Her poems have also appeared in Rhino, Tin House, and Redivider.