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UNFINISHED PAINTING, 7 APRIL 1938
cadmium splashes a peony petal
a soft fevered cheek
sweet the scent of flower
pungent the scent of linseed and paint
Ah the strokes fly
the brush steers my hand
I float on fumes ox and sable bridge
my body to canvas in color
in color yellows greens merge and jitter
I reach out
in all the colors
seen in my life
alizarin raw umber Prussian blue
bind me tight tighter
chained in cinnabar and gold
the easel and I fall
colors deepen blues violets bleed
Suzanne Valadon died of a stroke while working on a painting. Valadon was
a successful artist at the turn on the twentieth century.
MAURICE’S BIRTH 26 DECEMBER 1883
in a house once the public gallows
at the base of Montmartre
dark and cloistered
I lie in a narrow bed
hours and hours
the midwife alarmed
Madeleine sips wine in the corner
pain and push
push and pain
the midwife wipes a rag across my face
damp and damp
are the howls I hear my own?
all the clocks in Paris have run down
the sun leaks pale days past solstice
cold leaks from a trembling window
through the thin walls
lost in sleep three days
black and white winter
somewhere in the distance a child cries
in the drift of dream
in the spin of nightmare
I wake to tug on breast
sucking me back to life
Artist Maurice Utrillo was born to artist Suzanne Valadon on this day.
The carrots were heavy pinned to my bodice
I could nibble when hungry
unlike flowers merely pretty.
What did I care what was said behind
hands on the streets
in the cafes.
The goat I kept in my studio
had a purpose
bad drawings chewed and swallowed
lines gone wrong gone wild gone astray
the goat ate without complaint.
Some days all I did dinner for the goat
if a model didn’t like the scent
she didn’t come back unless hungry.
I remember hungry
standing just so turn this way bend down
adjust a strap hours without motion
as though time ticked in the swish
of brush on palette on canvas
An ooze of red
O alizarin O cadmium
O rose and currant
O the blood of Maurice’s tortured God
O despair flush my skin
tubes squeezed to the marrow.
I am not the fairest
she has gone in old news
in leaf mold.
I paint now
despondent heavy lidded eyes
the arch of brows still auburn hair
A bowl of apples on the table
that props the mirror.
Glass reversed interpretations of me
slowly materializes on the canvas
For this I wear a dress of many colors
looped chains, dots, a chevron flight
bands of design.
I stare into eyes returned
lost again but this is what I do.
Suzanne Valadon 1865-1938, painted self-portraits all her life.
gazes into a wine-hazed distance
she can not see,
a toothless crone poses
on a stool the dog in obeisance
paw on Madeleine’s lap stoically holds the stance.
Rising over all, Maurice, a handsome man
empty of thought or reason.
Maman and grandson dressed in dark.
Behind the outcropping of faces, flowers crawl the wall
Grandmother and Grandson the last painting of Madeleine
age 79 her mind taken in superstitious wandering.
Face turned away
from love shredded by madness
they suffer each other in ache
captured by daughter and mother
a trinity tied in paint
within the walls of 12 rue Cortot.
Light seeping through low clouds
infuses the studio under glass-sloped roof
Madeleine shrinks into death
Paris light covers her
coffin, laid down in Saint-Ouen
20 June 1915
The artist is Suzanne Valadon 1865-1938, mother of Maurice Utrillo V.
EVE RIFKAH is editor of the literary journal Diner and co-founder of Poetry Oasis, Inc. Poems have or will appear in Bellevue Literary Review, The MacGuffin, 5 AM, Parthenon West, newversenews.com, poetrymagazine.com, Chaffin Journal, Porcupine Press, The Worcester Review, California Quarterly, ReDactions, Jabberwock Review, Southern New Hampshire Literary Journal and translated into Braille. Her chapbook “At the Leprosarium” won the 2003 Revelever chapbook contest. A professor of English at Worcester State College, she received her MFA in Writing from Vermont College and lives with her husband, poet Michael Milligan.