Contrariwise book cover


The following poem is my interpretation of the William Bouguereau painting on the cover of CONTRARIWISE.   –S.T.



"There's only one kind of painting. It is the painting
                                     that presents the eye with perfection. . . “
                                     — William Bouguereau

scarlet (mercuric iodine)  cassius red (tin bioxide and gold protoxide)

Apple, I think, as I sit sidesaddle on another girl's back,
Trying to be as good as Papa said I was,
Yet I've been here so long, and lunch was only for him.

sap green (unripe buckthorn)  smalt (powdered cobalt glass)

Pear, I think. If I am good, he may give me one for myself.
When he tells me the story of Cupid with his arrows
And Psyche, I listen but beneath me I feel moving bones.

ochre (hydrated ferric oxide)  verdigris (copper acetate)

I am trying not to fall. Peach, I think, or a few centimes.
You look, he tells me, like a Raphael angel.
But I don't know any M. Raphael or any angels.

purple red (mercuric chromate)  brown madder (charred iron)

Now I am falling. Plums, I think, or a pair of new shoes.
Though I am being good, I want to scratch my nose,
And something is itching up between my legs.

viridian (sulfate of lime)  scheele's green (copper arsenate)

What I'd like, maybe, is a pomegranate or a dog.
My bare foot is scribbled with ants. Down my cheek
A tear runs and salts my lips. Some marzipan,

indian yellow (caged cow urine)   orpiment (arsenic sulfide)

Perhaps, shaped like a buttercup. This ride is too long,
And I want to get off. I need to make pipi.
Biscuits, I think, and buttermilk. But only if I'm good.

brown madder (iron)  silver white (lead carbonate)

I hate good. Now I am smelling his body and the body
Of the other girl — Chérie, she's called — my body, too.
Again, he tells me, I have the face of an angel.

sienna (ochreous earth and manganese)  orange (charred ceruse)

Angel food, I think, with berries. One day, he says,
When I grow bigger and rounder, he will paint me again.
Make me his Psyche. Cherries, I think, and arrows,

vermillion (mercuric sulphide)  cassel earth (coal)

Like ones Cupid shoots. One day I will paint you without
Clothes, he tells me, and I think I might have to die first.
Or maybe, old smelly man that he is, he will.

ivory black (charred ivory)  mummy (asphaltum and bone ash)


CONTRARIWISE is a book about men and women who are or were obsessed in one way or another with the lives of children. It begins with John Ruskin and Lewis Carroll and ends with Vladimir Nabokov.  In between you’ll find poems about writers, painters, photographers, dancers plus short poems about flowers, which—in one way or another—are also about young boys and girls.       –S.T.

CONTRARIWISE, Susan Terris (Time Being Books, 2008)