The rise of still life painting
in the early 1600s, according to art
history, reflected the growing urbanization
of society: a rising merchant class,
influx of ideas on how to live and spend
new wealth (including sugar and slaves)
trickling in from varied ports across
the globe. And thus upon a damask tablecloth,
a spread of wine in crystal decanters, some
carcass of roast pheasant or quail, quartered
lemons, flowers in a vase beginning to wilt,
an hourglass or sputtering candle— all
part of the conceit of “Vanitas,” the empty,
useless nature of material pursuit.
Is this then still life too, this last forsaken meal
on a makeshift dining table somewhere on Commonwealth
Avenue in the middle of a humid night in March, now
cordoned off with crime scene tape? The newspaper says
she was a “guest relations officer” at a desultory shack
sporting the sign “Virgo Club;” says the man ten feet away
was her partner, allegedly involved in drugs: both of them
killed by masked gunmen riding up on a motorcycle.
A plateful of rice, dull silver spoon; sardines
in tomato sauce from a can: food achingly familiar
to the poor. And just beyond the empty glass, five
slices of watermelon, a few eaten almost to the rind.
The plastic yellow monobloc chair smeared with blood
that caught her head and torso when she fell.