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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 9, Number 2, June 2015

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Patricia Prime
Te Atatu South, Auckland, New Zealand


La Muta
(Raphael)

in an email
from overseas friends
first photos
of their baby with his dimpled smile . . .
they’ve named him Raphael

One of the house painters, admiring the books lining my shelves, says he will loan me one of his art books. He buys most of his books from the school library when they have a clearance sale and he pays only a few dollars for them. Next day, he brings over a suitcase-sized book titled The Complete Works of Raphael. While the painters are busy, I carry the book to the dining table and begin to read the small print. There are 700 pages, each page has one or more black and white illustrations and there are full-sized colour reproductions of the most famous of Raphael’s paintings. One in particular I pause over for several minutes. It is called “La Muta.”

There is nothing refined in the thin face and watchful eyes, in the wiry hands that know hard work, momentarily at rest to display the rings on her thin fingers. She sits observing the painter, seeming almost annoyed at having to stay there while her household is abandoned to her servants and daughters. The gold necklace casts a faint shadow, the white puffs of her sleeves contrast with the emerald green of her gown. The gorgeous jewels brought out for the occasion are rendered with precision. Her unsmiling image is as mysterious as that of the Mona Lisa.

a shaft of sunlight
in the black-framed drawing
picks out the gold door
from its surrounding shadows
and splits it into fragments

a sudden flight
of kokako routed from the nest
feathers pinned briefly
in the watercolour
by a New Zealand artist

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