Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rehearsal   Edgar Degas
M. Degas Teaches Art and Science 
at Durfee Elementary School, Detroit-1942
by Philip Levine 

He made a line on the blackboard,
one bold stroke from right to left
diagonally downward and stood back
to ask, looking as always at no one
in particular, "What have I done?"
From the back of the room Freddie
shouted, "You've broken a piece
of chalk." M. Degas did not smile.
"What have I done?" he repeated.
The most intellectual students
looked down to study their desks
except for Gertrude Bimmler, who raised
her hand before she spoke. "M. Degas,
you have created the hypotenuse
of an isosceles triangle." Degas mused. 
Everyone knew that Gertrude could not
be incorrect. "It is possible,"
Louis Warshowsky added precisely,
"that you have begun to represent
the roof of a barn." I remember
that it was exactly twenty minutes
past eleven, and I thought at worst
this would go on another forty
minutes. It was early April,
the snow had all but melted on
the playgrounds, the elms and maples
bordering the cracked walks shivered
in the new winds, and I believed
that before I knew it I'd be
swaggering to the candy store
for a Milky Way. M. Degas
pursed his lips, and the room
stilled until the long hand
of the clock moved to twenty one
as though in complicity with Gertrude,
who added confidently, "You've begun
to separate the dark from the dark."
I looked back for help, but now
the trees bucked and quaked, and I
knew this could go on forever.


  1. The ballerinas in my house are going to LOVE today's entry. And I am such a sucker for Degas :)

  2. Have you ever read any of the Katie books by James Mayhew? The main character, Katie, goes to the museum with her Grandma and ends up having various adventures within the paintings. I love them.

    In Katie Meets the Impressionists, Katie asks the girl in Renoir's The First Outing about her bouquet. After several on- and behind-stage adventures she gets lost in the theater. She finds her way back out of the painting world and back to the museum when she runs into some of Degas' ballerinas warming up and sees the frame she needs.

    I think the Katie books can be credited with my current interest in art literacy. They're wonderful introductions.