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Discovering My Mother in a Painting by Mary Cassatt
by Mary Jo Balistreri

She catches me with her half-smile,
unconscious delight flowering over her.
I finger the single strand around my neck,
eyes fixed on the woman with pearls—my pearls, my mother's.

It may be the pastel color lit by lamps of rosy hue
as she looks out from her balcony, or maybe the sheen
of her strawberry-blonde hair curled back behind her ear
that mesmerizes and transports me
to the theaters of my mother's dancing career,
the chandelier casting soft reflections, the rustle
of anticipation in the upper tiers before lights dim.

I remember her Irish skin—milk-white porcelain, blush
that tinted her cheeks. Any minute she might break
out in that hearty laugh, infectious to anyone around her.
Even in the wake of dying, light glints off her coral scarf
and nightgown like the leaps and pliés of her life.

I long for my mother, on loan from somewhere else,
who's stopped to linger here for a spell
in the Art Institute. Too soon she'll have to leave again,
but here, where shadows are part of light,
is where I stand.


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