Confessions of a Nun

The speaker is Sister Jacques-Marie,
née Monique Bourgeois

Yes, I loved Matisse. He made it for me,
you know, this church of glass and fire.
Now when the sun rolls rectangles on floors

through windows painted yellow, I remember
the yellow broom we stumbled through each morning
when we climbed this hill, and how he stirred

to greens in scrub weeds, whites in the anemones,
and blues in the sliver of sea beyond rock terraces.
He owned his loves. His Vence. I, his Monique.

Nurse. Disciple. Rose. But who was I?
Harsh words we had, a few. I had to leave
for me, myself, my holy vows.

If I belonged to anything, it was
(how could I tell him?), someone larger.
Il faut y avoir plus, there must be more.

Later, he aged, arthritic, waiting for
the angel to wound him. None appeared,
but when my sisters called for a new chapel,

I drew a priest he painted on a wall
while belted to his chair. I tied a brush
to a long twig, strapped it to his arm,

and watched him paint anger in daring strokes:
an outsized poppy, the Virgin and child,
a monk. Rage for lost years, for few to come.

(Why does he think his work is never finished?)
And yet he scorned — what is it? — pitié.
Not for him. He told me once, in wartime,

his daughter captured, tortured for her fight
in the Maquis, he wept at home, alone —
all the while painting joy in reds and violets.

Now in this blue-green-yellow chapel,
seeing the late day sunlight on the sketches
of planetree, priestly vestments, and an altar

the color of risen bread, I know at last
that just as he held my vows in his great hands,
he, godless, will work it out with God.

Grace Schulman

Grace Schulman

Grace Schulman's forthcoming book is Again the Dawn: New and Selected Poems, set for November, 2022 (Turtle Point Press). She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and has received the Frost Medal for Distinguished Lifetime Achievement in American Poetry. Her eighth book of poems is The Marble Bed and her memoir is Strange Paradise: Portrait of a Marriage (both Turtle Point). Editor of The Poems of Marianne Moore (Viking), she is Distinguished Professor of English at Baruch College, C.U.N.Y.

Among her other honors are the Aiken Taylor Award for poetry, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award, and five Pushcart Prizes. About her poems, Harold Bloom has written, "Grace Schulman has developed into one of the permanent poets of her generation." Schulman is former director of the Poetry Center, 92nd Street Y, 1974-84, and former poetry editor of The Nation, 1971-2006.
Grace Schulman

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Author: Grace Schulman

Grace Schulman's forthcoming book is Again the Dawn: New and Selected Poems, set for November, 2022 (Turtle Point Press). She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and has received the Frost Medal for Distinguished Lifetime Achievement in American Poetry. Her eighth book of poems is The Marble Bed and her memoir is Strange Paradise: Portrait of a Marriage (both Turtle Point). Editor of The Poems of Marianne Moore (Viking), she is Distinguished Professor of English at Baruch College, C.U.N.Y. Among her other honors are the Aiken Taylor Award for poetry, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award, and five Pushcart Prizes. About her poems, Harold Bloom has written, "Grace Schulman has developed into one of the permanent poets of her generation." Schulman is former director of the Poetry Center, 92nd Street Y, 1974-84, and former poetry editor of The Nation, 1971-2006.