Portrait Painter at War

Horrible light and very short sittings—
the portrait of the Old Gentleman,
who looks like a medieval saint,
will take longer than I thought.
So here I am at the oil man’s villa
in temperatures like a Turkish bath.
I have been sketching a good deal,
palmettos and alligators, but they don’t
make good pictures. Surf-bathing
saves one’s life in this horrid hole.

Yet the days fly by—it is disgraceful
I am still down here. I was induced to go
on a fishing cruise in the Gulf. Absurd
to be cruising for days with nothing to draw—
and strong moral pressure upon one to fish.
It is hard work, lazy and monotonous,
but not to fish is to offend one’s God and host.

We almost went to Havana, then gave up—
too much wind, and possible submarines.
Not a periscope so far, just some risk
of being surprised by patrols on the viaducts;
we have been warned off of them
as if we were Germans laying mines.
A couple of soldiers even came aboard
to see if we were really fishing for tarpon.

I am extremely proud of having had
the best luck of our party, though my arms ache
with pulling in various inglorious, heavy fish.
But only one tarpon—I lost two others.
Mine was six feet, ten inches long.
In a small way down here in Florida
one feels that war is an actuality.
Everyone is giving up yachts and launches.
The steam houseboat that I am on
is to be handed over to the government at once.

About Debora Greger:
Debora Greger’s new book of poems, By Herself, was published by Penguin in 2012. She is the Poet-in-Residence at the Harn Museum of Art in Gainesville, Florida.