‘Las Meninas’ Includes the Artist

by Brenda Leckie

He placed us carefully as peaches in a bowl of fruit,we stood
where he had marked the floor with chalk;
except for the infanta, too young to understand
how not to move, or so her parents said, although we knew
she could not be commanded to keep still
by a mere artist, so we spread her dress to catch the light
and Doña Maria offered her a cup of sugared orange juice
while Doña Isabel prepared to sing her nursery rhymes.
 
My work was simply to be there, and let my heavy face
make a contrasting shadow to the bright princess’s
although my hair, I like to think, was once as gold as hers.
I watched the painter as he skimmed the brush
over the picture, intent and focussed as a hawk
hovers above a rabbit, now and then his hand
stabbed at the portrait or reached out to grab
a different paintbrush. For me, it wasn’t hard to watch.
 
When that day’s work was over, I crept voyeur-like
towards the easel and tipped my head on its short neck
to view the painter’s thoughts. We were all there, outlined
like ghosts, and he was in there too, among the royal group
claiming an artist’s privilege no-one had tried to claim before
his dark face firmly drawn, his skin substantiated by paint
he looked out full-face from the canvas, bold and undisguised –
I wondered if he’d leave himself in there, or wash a colour over,
or tactfully withdraw into the background, like a guest
who’d arrived too early and must wait.