University of Oregon


Polishing Brass

Myra Wiggins used her housekeeper, Alma Schmidt, as a subject in several of her pictorial photographs of Dutch domestic life. Schmidt wore costumes and posed in a variety of theatrical scenes. No further record of their relationship exists.

No, more a holy meditation
On surface and stain:

Madonna with Vessel.

The inland
glow of white shoulders

rivulet of vertebrae

vestige of one breath-
takingly long

and sexual arm
which grasps

the ledge
of the cauldron

as she curves onward.


Remember form:

nothing more

than potent omen —

pyramid of saucepan top,

of water bucket,
angle of the invisible skin —

dimpled underneath her arranged garment —


Alight-stroked body,
conflicted as rosewater, as clotted cream.


Alma, grace of more
than poor

Our Lady of the Scullery Shimmer —

starlet of
returning questions

May I serve you?


Perhaps art as polish

gloss of what the photograph

pretends in voyeurism.

An aperture, a flash

of the nakedly conscious eye —

a part of and apart —

blessing identity until it blinds us.


Once, on a sunlit afternoon

a maidservant, an ingénue,

swept forward —

into what this moment you

in Almeria, Soho, Barcelona —

might admire, must revise —

a woman’s hand: fingernails, blue.

— Susan Rich

* * *

Mr. Myra Albert Wiggins
Recalls Their Arrangement

Maybe it was the bicycle. The way her hips
rose up and up — as if directed straight to heaven —

Like a Venus. And a banker’s daughter — true.
Real original, this girl — a bicycle, a camera,

other newfangled tools. So I sent her bolts
of ribbon, overalls, and boots — anything to make her squint

her eyes and glance one day toward me — me: Fred
Wiggins of Wiggins Bazaar — 123 Commercial Street.

More of a back-up boyfriend, for someone like Myra
her family would say. Everyone knew she was in love

with her own life: bareback rides, opera singing,
and the New York artiste nights. But I expected

to live a little, too. And so if there were men
of Salem, Toppenish, Seattle, lovely and rich —

who snickered at our last–season suits
and sequined gowns, who hinted not infrequently —

that a husband should not be so happy
packing picture frames and mounting

photographs. Christ. They knew nothing

— Susan Rich

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