Looking at a woman bathing in a stream (Rembrandt, c. 1654)

by Moira Kirkwood

Snagged like a trout. I’m caught up 
in the chest, the heart. I find I’m 
looking at her through water. 

See her smile, refusing to look up
as he teases: how about you lift 
that shirt a little higher?  

Her skin has an appetite for 
pleasure: the stream’s thrill and 
the heat of his gaze. Follow the
turn of those seventeenth century 

They’re both famous, so it’s as 
though we’re friends. I know where 
they lived and how. Then I know 
that special thing: the hour of 
their death.
I take my tenderness and leave
the Gallery. No scrap of empathy
in this cold London air but I’ll stay 

I came across A woman bathing in a stream in the National Gallery where it resides amongst other masterpieces. It’s a small, roughly hewn work and at the time of my visit, modestly placed in a corner. I didn’t see it till I was right upon it, so I was kind of surprised by it. I found myself crying while I looked. Rembrandt has that effect on many of us! 

A link to the artwork: https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/rembrandt-a-woman-bathing-in-a-stream-hendrickje-stoffels

Moira Kirkwood has written creatively all her life, but things started to take shape when she joined the South Coast Writers Centre several years ago. She did the Chicken Dance, privately in her own home, when her poetry was included in SCWC’s anthology Seeking Horizons (20014). In 2016, Mark Tredinnick told her he enjoyed a poem of hers. Everything since then has been more or less a happy haze. This year she was fortunate to attend Ron Pretty’s Masterclass, which helped her enormously. 

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