Susan Rich


Polishing Brass

 Myra used her housekeeper, Alma Schmidt, as a subject in several of her pictorial photographs of Dutch domestic life. Schmidt wore costumes and posed in a variety of theatrical scenes. No further record of their relationship exists.


No, more a holy meditation
on surface and stain

Madonna with Vessel.

The inland
glow of white shoulders

rivulet of vertebrae

vestige of one breath-
takingly long

and sexual arm
which grasps

the ledge
of the cauldron

as she curves onward.


Remember form:
nothing more

than potent omen ~

pyramid of saucepan top,

of water bucket, angle of  the invisible
skin dimpled

underneath her arranged garment ~

a light-stroked body,
conflicted as rosewater, as clotted cream~


Alma, grace of more
than poor

Our Lady of the Scullery Shimmer ~

starlet of
returning questions

May I serve you?



Perhaps art as polish

gloss of what the photograph

 pretends in voyeurism.

 An aperture, a flash

of the nakedly conscious eye ~

 a part of and apart ~

 blessing identity until it blinds us.


 Once, on a sunlit afternoon

 a maidservant, an ingénue,

 swept forward ~

 into what this moment you

in Walla Walla, Soho, Barcelona ~

 might admire, must revise ~

a woman’s hands: fingernails, blue.



Susan Rich is the author of three collections of poetry, The Alchemist’s Kitchen (2010) named a finalist for the Foreword Prize and the Washington State Book Award, Cures Include Travel (2006), and The Cartographer’s Tongue / Poems of the World (2000) winner of the PEN USA Award for Poetry. She has received awards The Times Literary Supplement of London, Peace Corps Writers and the Fulbright Foundation. Recent poems appear in the Harvard Review, New England Review, and The Women’s Review of Books.

“Polishing Brass” is an ekphrastic poem, based on a photo by Myra Albert Wiggins: