On Millet's The Gleaners

by Adam Tavel Issue: Spring/Summer 2020


The swollen russet knuckles of their hands 
are darker than the soil that dusts their hems.
They have no countenances, these peasant French,
reduced to three bonnets bowing. We’re meant
to see them as our mothers grubbing wheat,
triangular, stooped in breezeless heat,
yet somehow still too dignified for dung-
stained clogs. Idealized, these poor that hung
inside the Louvre repulsed those bourgeoisie
who pulled perfumed kerchiefs from their sleeves
to feign the painting’s rustic stench might waft.
Perhaps they feared the thick-armed girls embossed
upon the harvest background most, whose lives
were brute, and biblical, and dashed by scythes.

Adam Tavel

Adam Tavel is the author of four books of poetry, including the forthcoming Sum Ledger (Measure Press, 2021). His most recent collection, Catafalque, won the Richard Wilbur Award (University of Evansville Press, 2018). You can find him online at http://adamtavel.com/ and on Twitter at @fawnabyss.