The French Bed

I can’t speak from the man’s point of view,
but as a woman, I’d say this etching tells truth
about sex. The lover is kneeling for his own pleasure
first, then hers too, perhaps. His foot is flexed
for pushing energetically. He’s as deep
as he can go into the soft folds of her flesh.
And she, with knees frankly spread, is telling him
with fingers where and how he should move.
They are so wise with each other. Notice the eyes.
It’s not a brothel. He was in love with this wife.

Rembrandt, in his exuberance, gave the girl
three arms. One hand we see stroking the side
of her lover’s back, another reaches round for his bum,
and the third, a fully visible limb, lies limp
on the bed, as if she’s totally compliant, or done.
The bed is well made, with canopy and draperies,
the linens as plush as her thighs. She’s relaxed into what
he desires; she’s eager and wants her own pleasure too.
The drypoint’s velvety strokes so accurate. He saw
what he wanted and made it, and wanted what he saw.

After all the crosses, Christs feeding the peasants,
rooftops and ruins, beggars in hats, here is
domestic interior—fine inked-up lines swirled
into rumpled bedclothes and bodies’ vulnerable
curlings—her sweet face, his competent shoulders.
A scribbling style, tender and swift, all gesture
and touch. The needle’s hard burr softens and makes
vivid the intimacy, the inwardness, the mutual desire.
What comes after seduction, the drapery drawn
for our eyes—what we want desperately is this.


© Idris Anderson

First published in The Hudson Review