Self-Portrait with Daughters

Зинаида Серебрякова  (1884-1967)   Self-portrait with Daughters  1922

The window won’t close all the way
and even though they stuff the bottom with newspapers
the wind still pushes its way in. Water freezes.
Her youngest’s nose runs all the time.
She worries. At night the floor pools
with silver and it’s only her and her daughters
still up, finishing their new dresses (both made
from one of hers.) They have the same sharp
faces, too thin, too pale. She worries.
She never thought herself beautiful but
her daughters think so. I want to be just like you
when I grow up, says the oldest, and
the youngest says Not me, I’m going to
be a ballerina and dance in the best
theaters in Paris. The oldest looks up
from bandaging her feet and smiles.

As the winter pinkens to spring she sends them
outside for air and water. One daughter
returns to the ballet academy, the other returns
to her piano, pounding the keys
with all the strength in her tiny fingers. Don’t
hurt yourself and stop wiping your nose
on your sleeve, Zinaida says as she works on
her newest painting. In it, the daughters
lean against her, wearing their new
dresses. Their eyes are dark. Confident and certain.

Zinaida Serebriakova (1884-1967) was a Russian artist.  Although born into a wealthy family, her husband died after the Russian Revolution (1917) and she was forced to move into a small apartment with her four children.  She eventually moved to Paris to complete a commission, but could not return to the USSR and was separated from her two oldest children for the next 36 years.