Support the writers and artists of O:JA&L and Buttonhook Press

Anne Myles

Girl in a Red Dress with Cat and Dog

—after the painting by Ammi Phillips, ca. 1830-1835

Girl in a Red Dress with Cat and Dog by Ammi Phillips

Short hair tucked behind her ears,
.          a faint flush rising in her cheeks,
.                    she stares at the traveling painter

as if she can see through him,
.          her proud parents, the walls of the house,
.                    the lush greenery of Dutchess County,

piercing even two centuries into
        this future, where our gazes meet.
.                    Darkness hangs a curtain behind her;

before, the air is hard and clear as glass.
.          The flat plane of the dress is like a screen
.                    she leans against with her skinny chest

to steady herself from being swallowed
.          by the long look that fixes her—ours
.                    as well now—child body on display,

shoulders naked like a lady’s, throat wound
.          with loops of thin red necklaces.
.                    She hugs the ghost-cat like her life.

The canvas bristles with three silences;
.          the dog at her feet half-smiles. Her own look
.                    proffers the viewer no reassurance

nor does she appear to seek any;
.          she is consciousness gathered
.                    in the image of a young girl watching,

that which is most vulnerable
.          edged into exactitude, unflinching,
.                    which is the perhaps very quality

we find in the act of seeing, caught
.          between the dark and all that binds us,
.                    and refusing to look away.


About the writer:
Anne Myles is the author of What Woman That Was: Poems for Mary Dyer (Final Thursday Press). Her poems have appeared in On the Seawall, North American Review, Whale Road Review, and elsewhere. She received her MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and is a four-time Pushcart nominee.

Image: Girl in a Red Dress with Cat and Dog by Ammi Phillips (1788-1865). Oil on canvas. 30 x 25 inches. Between 1830 & 1835. Public domain.

OJAL Art Incorporated, publishing since 2017 as OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters (O:JA&L) and its imprint Buttonhook Press, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation supporting writers and artists worldwide.

Become an O:JA&L Member through Patreon.