After Chagall’s 1920 mural “The Green Fiddler”
First, I notice the colors. Though the fiddler’s coat
is regal purple, his face and the hand holding the bow
are frog-green. Like his songs are making him wealthy
but he still envies other, more talented musicians
or the owners of the opulent halls where he performs.
Next, I note the fiddler’s foothold. He stands
bow-legged, precarious on two sloped roofs,
a domed synagogue in between. Then I see,
above the fiddler’s head, a barefoot boy
dressed in pink, floating on air.
A horse stands on hind legs, leans
against a house, rapt by the music. And I
am rapt when a woman with hair the color of
lightning stands front and center, blocking the houses
so the fiddler seems to balance on her wavy locks.
The painting reminds me of Midwood, Brooklyn, where
I spent a summer in a slummy boarding house.
Nice and quiet, too quiet on weekends when everything
shut down: Judith’s Shoes, Jerusalum Pizza, Shalom Books.
“Please turn on our light!” pleaded a woman one Sabbath,
and we scaled two flights of stairs so I could flip
the switch, which I never understood until
I heard Tevya, the milkman in Fiddler On The Roof,
say “Without tradition our lives would be
as insecure as the fiddler up there on the roof.”
A little man at the green fiddler’s ear holds up a cloud
and, muse-like, tells the fiddler what notes to play.
Another little man holds a violin by the neck and leans
toward the fiddler as if planning to strike him for any wrong note.
Or maybe that’s the censor, saying “don’t play.” I, too,
have a little voice in my ear, that of a co-worker full of stories
about how “she wanted extra sausage hahaha,” and his voice
tells me to approach the woman with hair the color of lightning,
makes me want to descend on her like an owl swooping to lift a mouse.
But I don’t. For what if the fiddler’s ear represents Chagall’s ear,
and what if that little man is the heavy law telling him
“Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any
likeness of any thing in heaven above or in the earth
beneath, or in the waters”? I, too, have an inner critic,
and nowhere near his boldness, nowhere near his art.