Live Virtual Group Session: 12pm EDT July 15th 2020

32 participants gathered today from around the world to explore the form, tone, voice and resonance of the poem “Monet Refuses the Operation,” written by German-American poet Lisel Mueller. After introductions and a 10-second silence/centering, the group heard the poem read aloud twice (once as text only and then again while looking at an image of Rouen Cathedral, by artist Claude Monet.)

Initial questions of “Who is speaking? What do we know? What do our senses tell us?” provided momentum for a discussion of identity (could be Monet…or anyone), doctor/patient intersubjectivity (what is real vs. a “doctor’s real”), vulnerability (as an aging artist), and the illusion of reality (even with fixed points of reference).  We recognized that there is comfort in the idea that it’s ok to change, that there is a beauty in aging beyond what’s a baseline “normal” toward a perhaps-better “non-normal.”  Reality, it was said, is in the eye of the individual, and this vision of the artist seems to manifest itself in the poem about Monet as well as in his painting.

Our conversation settled into an exploration of tone (humorous?), reactions (some positive, others negative), form (“line breaks are illusions of borders, of thoughts”), and conflict (impressionism vs. realism).  The artist-patient urgency in the poem (“You say/I tell you”) informed our appreciation for the poem itself as art and our commitment to it as listeners/readers: what do we as individuals bring to the poem?

Participants wrote to the prompt “Write about a time you saw things differently.” One writer described herself as having been “stuck in quicksand” not being able to budge until she recovered a memory of “color singing in my soul.”  Another began a poem in the shadow of the Mueller text: “My son, your heart . . . .”  And our readings came full circle when our last writer, mirroring the text discussion that began with a reflection on aging, took us all the way back to a childhood vision of sweets.

Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.

Also, we would love to learn more about your experience of these sessions, so if you’re able, please take the time to fill out a follow-up survey of one to two quick questions!

Please join us for our next session Monday, July 20th at 6pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.

We look forward to seeing you again soon!

Monet Refuses the Operation by Lisel Mueller

Doctor, you say there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolve
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don’t know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent. The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and changes our bones, skin, clothes
to gases. Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.

Lisel Mueller, "Monet Refuses the Operation" from Second Language.
Copyright © 1996 by Lisel Mueller.