No angel with uplifted hand, no symbol
of the Holy Spirit, gliding down on
gilded beams—and for all we know the woman
is no virgin. Still, any woman reading
is an annunciation. Vermeer knew this:
reading is parthenogenetic, magic
doubling of the self fertilized by words.
His girl reading stands in profile but floats
full-faced—ghostly—in leaded window panes.
On a table, among rich draperies, lies
her half-eaten peach, dark seed ringed by flesh
radiant as the infant’s in some nativity.
Hooper’s woman sits, before turning back
the antiseptic sheets, nearly nude and bent
above her book. Her cell-like room argues
the world is a disease (sparse furnishings
the hues of bodily fluids, one wall shadowed
like a bruise.) And the light! the woman reads
in the glare of the examining room,
the operating room. But if you think
the room speaks of defeat (isn’t it defeat
we find in narrow places?) consider whom
she resembles most: Mary clinging to her book
as she withholds her gaze from Gabriel.
—Diane S. Bonds