Dana Knott, Art Lessons

Art Lessons

(for Lizzie Siddal, model for and eventual wife of Dante Gabriel Rossetti)

He says I have a natural talent.
He is my teacher and I his
pupil who borrows his pencils.

He advises, “Drop the second L
in your name. One L is more
refined.” So I am Siddal now.

He guides my unsure hand across
the canvas. His soft beard tickles
my skin like a plush sable brush.

I stay in his rooms to practice,
to soften the stiffness of my figures.
Soon he gives me lessons in bed.

Between my small breasts my heart
beats please and more, hungers
like an addict. I am a summer field

of fresh-cut hay, warm and sweet
and intoxicating. As we tremble
together, he says, “Look at me.”

But how can I gaze into those eyes
again? Instead, I look above his head.
Dust motes silvered by moonlight

fall like tiny stars at the world’s end.


(Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal, 1853-1854)

I am no Helen of Troy.
I am no destroyer of cities.

I do not flatter myself
as some great beauty.

I am more pigeon than dove,
a plague rather than a prayer.

My long neck is not the neck
of a swan, but a pedestal

holding the face of a nun,
pale, fallen, forgotten.

Verdant green mutes the red
of my hair like a veil.

The heavy lids below my brows
hide the blue bruises of my eyes

but not the weary truth
of how I see my imperfect self.

Art lies in artifice. My lover is a liar.


Lizzie has just been delivered of a dead child. She is doing pretty well, I trust.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (letter to his mother, May 2, 1861)

Like Noah’s dove, her soul left
my body even as her own
body remained in mine for days.

Once, her gentle fluttering
reassured my anxious mind.
Stillness is the herald of Death.

No hope nests in my torn heart.
To never feel her sweet breath,
her tiny lungs like folded wings.

Of her, I have only wispy hair,
feathery and red between
pages of a book. She is gone.

She is dead. I cradle nothing
but her empty nightdress.
He stands at the door, watching,

and opens his mouth to speak.
“Shhh. You’ll wake the baby,”
I say as the room fills with birdsong.

Dana Knott’s writing has recently appeared in The American Journal of Poetry, Parhelion, Ethel Zine, FERAL, and Rejection Letters. Currently, she works as an academic library director in Ohio, and is the editor of tiny wren lit. You can follow her on Twitter: @dana_a_knott

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