The Yellow Curtain

The Yellow Curtain

                                                                     Edouard Vuillard, c. 1893
I woke into a sheet of gold unspooled
and still unspent, a wealth you know.

For once, though it was everywhere—
the bedclothes were stitched with tumbling waves of it

all shifting westward in imperfect perpendiculars
through windows to where a buoy bobbed and tugged,

like an anchor dredging deeper hues, the sun.
And I was bobbing too, hand dangling from a dream

in which I’d stopped at the pollenous heart of every thing,
had bloomed like a single drop of water from the tap

that gathers light and works light’s little knives
until it seemed no one could look at it too closely and survive.

Maybe that’s why my eyes stayed shut,
though I could feel gold brushing them with whirring wings,

and why the practical boats didn’t make for harbor
though the city hung before them clear as a postcard,

and why the room’s wallpaper rioted with verbenum
everywhere but in the brilliant mirror, which, on most days,

pretends it’s a porthole looking out
on nothing more spendthrift than the sea.


This poem is written by Terri Witek.

I read this poem both before and after googling the title and the artist, which then gave me a link to the painting it is based off of.

I think I liked the poem better before I saw the painting, especially because of lines like “the bedclothes were stitched with tumbling waves of it” and “I could feel glod brushing them with whirring wings”  — these lines jumped out in my mind as things that can only be expressed in words, not through paint. I was disappointed at first, with the painting and then with the poem, because the images in my mind didn’t match the painting (that yellow looks more like mustard than gold!) but then I think I realized that the poem spoke louder than the painting, giving the subject a voice (“I”) and providing a setting outside the room. 

Maybe the poem has to do with the overwhelming task the poet feels in translating a story from a mysterious figure with her back turned to us: that it is the immense possibility that is “why my eyes stayed shut.”


One Response to “The Yellow Curtain”

  1. Jim says:

    The title of this poem seems to be directly alluding to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Witek’s concentration upon the gilded decoration of the room and its relationship to wealth and well-being seems to suggest “imperfect perpendiculars” to themes from Gilman’s story. Interestingly enough, Gilman’s work is contemporaneous with Vuillards painting and seems to share some central themes -though the relationship between social class and the particular framing of this room might make for an interesting discussion of your initial distate for the painting as opposed to the poem.