The Innisfree Poetry Journal

by Eve Rifkah


A man paints
in the fields
I watch through the window
make excuses to walk
Oh so lightly
a glance        just a glance
at his canvas.
    I know this man,
Andre        Maurice's friend.
He comes and goes
glancing my way
he sees not just
trees        not just sky touching earth
He sees me           waits for me to stride
out my door after my dogs
their leashes yank me into his eyes
I feel the tightening of the bonds.

I call to him one day
           You can't paint the earth
           the same way you paint the sky.

I send him a letter
Thursday 23 September 1909
    I forgot yesterday that I have my model
    On Friday and Saturday. I must rearrange
    Our visit to the museum for next Tuesday
    If you can, come and call me as arranged.
And I waited
his image merging with my model's
leg   curve    arm    lifted

What am I looking at?
23, younger than my son!
Yet how can that matter
we touch and touch
never enough.
All the men before were not this man.


She seemed to dance rather than walk.
How could I not love her?
She had something of Amazon and fairy.
I begged Maurice to introduce us.
    She seemed so pleased.
Was it only that Maurice had a friend?
And what of her husband a well-placed man
stockbroker and banker?
I a mere electrician.

Yet I        feel       her glance
Ah she enters my dreams
I know not day from night
real from unreal.

I set my easel outside her window
     oh dear God
she asked what I was working on
wants to see my painting.
A self-portrait      yet now I see myself in dark
next to her brilliance.

I want to stretch myself on her canvas
have her paint me in large strokes
feel her hand
color my life

(Lines in italics are quotes from Andre and Suzanne.  Suzanne Valadon, 1865-1938, was a famous model and artist.  Andre Utter, also an artist, was her second husband.  Maurice Utrillo, known for his scenes of urban Paris, was her son.)


avenues empty
but for a few faceless smudges
wafting specters up narrow streets.
all the windows empty
not a curtain flutters or
pulled back
all eyes vanquished from these

streets funneling bottom edge up
to dead stop       wall blocked
doors      black slits.

These walls four-sided       or just facade
propped from behind       with heavy beams
holding all the walls      framing
my son's world         sunk

into canvas         into some
place here       not here
empty          and full
these         streets
under leaden skies
this city        Montmartre
distilled in       his visions
as village as        once was
not now not now.

We remove Maurice from city straight
from angled      from his streets
and cafes where he fills on wine
he picks up his brushes in country
verdant           bird cry alive
paints again           again
the streets           Montmartre

in his room postcards line the walls
he never leaves     never carries easel and paint
the critics taunt    Maurice paints Paris from postcards
I reply          Some painters paint from nature
and produce postcards; my son paints from postcards
produces masterpieces.

(Note:  Lines in italics are quotes from Suzanne Valadon, mother of Maurice Utrillo.)


It's not just that the bones ache
flesh becomes unbecoming
sags and pulls with each gravitational
turn         here I have dressed my neck
in amber beads       my eyes still
midsummer blue while the lids
fall in  autumnal droop

I resign myself to be who I am
no longer pretty no longer young
on the streets heads turn
for the artist          not the enchantress
so be it

see out the window behind my right shoulder?
it is still summer     clouds pivot over blue
I use blue in the shadows under my breasts

At 18 I paint myself austere
thinking I would be beautiful always
a midnight blue dress tight to my neck

I paint myself at 48 with the bloom
of youth and love still shining
my body firm and sensual
my dress dropped below my breasts

at 59 I slash the canvas in a rage
nothing beautiful anymore
fame is casting eyes on Maurice
over me     fights with Andre tear
my heart           who am I here?

now I have grown beyond sexuality
the raison d'etre in France    I have grown old
I paint myself winter

no other woman dares document time
with her own flesh
no other woman strips the layers of convention
to aging        bone heavy       and weary

(Note: Suzanne Valadon was the first woman artist to paint herself aging.)


The artists call me Maria
dropping Clementine
turning the eei of Marie into an eai.
Degas calls me his Terrible Maria.

I become sea-nymph, virgin, muse, goddess
For Puvis de Chavannes.
In The Grove Sacred to the Arts and Muses
I inhabit all the ladies, curve of my hip on one
my arms holding a book in another
There I am, and again there, that's me.
found and changed stroke by stroke.

I am the nymphs and dryads in Jean-Jacques
Henner's  Melancholy. Even Princess Mathilde
found me beguiling. The Italians, the Czech, the Germans
and an American, they all loved me with their brushes.

Renoir did the best by me
all of Paris sees my face, my rosy skin.
I danced in place until every muscle stiff
I became the painting.
His tender hands rubbed me limber again.

You who pose in the nude for old men
you ought to be called Suzanne,
said Henri Toulouse
and so I shall.

Copyright 2006-7 by Cook Communication