The Song Rehearsal
Degas, National Gallery of Scotland
It seems familiar somehow, though it's set
In a parlor in New Orleansanother age.
It's summerthe furniture is draped in white.
A shadowed man looks up from the piano.
Two women are rehearsing a duet
One is striding down an imagined stage
In full-throated aria, the other,
Turning her face away, holds up her right
Hand against the blast of shrill soprano.
But reading the little plaque, I understand
The casual scene from life begins to change
To genre. The woman with the lifted hand,
Turning away, as if half-terrified,
With loose, high-waisted skirt, will be a mother.
The singer bearing down on her, mouth wide,
Is the angel trumpeting the news so strange,
So ordinary, it's difficult to believe
And greater than anything she could conceive.
A.E. Stallings, Hapax, Northwestern University Press,