As you know, in Alkmaar in 1633,
a single tulip bulb was traded for
a fleet, neither party owning either.
Vermeer's people were a drunken people,
prone to debt. Nervousness, as in rabbits,
was expressed by running wildly then
holding very still. Almost alone
among the Dutch, the women of Alkmaar
fashioned their hair into elaborate
helmets. You did not want to be rammed
by an Alkmaarian woman. When a male wished
to marry, he produced a bulb count
and if his sum was acceptable, his intended
would bare one breast setting off
a week of frenzy crowned by a short
underwater ceremony to honor their belief
that the source of all life was the sea.
It had to be short because oxygen tanks
were still primitively constructed
from the bladders of sheep.
A sad day for sheep but all others
regaled themselves with brew-skees.
Conservative estimates put each man,
woman and child consuming the equivalent
of three six-packs a day and this before
the pop-top. Yet how steady the brushstroke,
how calm the interiors.
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