This week, we are excited to present a new poem by Chelsea Rathburn. Rathburn is the author of A Raft of Grief (Autumn House 2013) and The Shifting Line (U. of Evansville 2005). Her poems have appeared in such journals as Poetry, The Atlantic, New England Review, Ploughshares, 32 Poems, and The Southern Review. A 2009 NEA poetry fellow, she lives in the mountains of north Georgia, where she directs the creative writing program at Young Harris College. Her website is www.chelsearathburn.com.
In December 2015, I flew to France alone to study Eugene Delacroix’s sketches of the murderous mother Medea. I’d begun a sequence of poems about his painting Médée Furieuse for my manuscript-in-progress, Still Life with Mother and Knife, which explores maternal ambivalence, love, and fear. For two days, I stood in front of the towering canvas and sat before stacks of preparatory sketches in the department of drawings at Lille’s Palais des Beaux Arts. It was my first time away from my daughter for anything more than a night since her birth, and I felt both guilty and exhilarated (and a little foolish – who flies across the world in pursuit of poems she may not ever write?). Since Delacroix’s sketches are not on public display, the act of holding the drawings to the light, studying their crosshatching, wondering what each sketch taught the artist, was a surprisingly intimate one, and seeing the painter’s emerging vision and many revisions reminded me of the poet’s process, replete with false starts and errant lines we hope to shape into something meaningful.
A few months later, when my daughter was learning to swim, I was struck by the way her struggles against me in the water resembled Medea’s boys in some of the early sketches. It’s those struggles – hers and mine – that I hope to capture in the poem.
—After a sketch for Delacroix’s Médée Furieuse