Poet's Choice: 'Nude Asleep in the Tub' by Wayne Miller

By Wayne Miller
Sunday, October 4, 2009

"Nude Asleep in the Tub" began when I attended an exhibition -- I believe at the MoMA in 1998 -- of Pierre Bonnard's beautiful paintings of interior domestic scenes, many of which are of his wife bathing. I had just moved to New York, shortly after finishing college, and what struck me about the work was Bonnard's ability to create the illusion of flickering light within a static canvas. Over the following two years, I attempted several versions of a poem about a woman in a bathtub, all of which failed miserably.

I picked up the poem -- or the idea for the poem -- again in 2005, when I'd been living with my girlfriend for a couple years in Kansas City. Now that I had lived with someone for more than a very short while, I discovered I had come to understand more fully what those Bonnard paintings were about: that moment when one's beloved withdraws inward to attend to her interior life, even though you are present in the room. It's in such moments that a relationship can, paradoxically, feel most intimately entangled -- the beloved suddenly recaptures that glow of mystery and distance a regular life together erodes; at the same time, she exudes a level of comfort and intimacy that is only possible after a period of living together.

As is often the subject of poetry, it also struck me how briefly such moments last.

(Editor's note: To see this poem laid out correctly on paper or on your screen, click the Print button in the Toolbox.)

Nude Asleep in the Tub

As if she were something opened --

like a pocket watch -- her body


slipped beneath a surface

peeled back to reveal its surface --


drops of air clinging to her thighs

like roe. Outside, the snow

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