Tuesday, October 03, 2006

PARIS, 1870, ‘Portrait Romantique’

The portrait Cézanne painted of him was bizarre.
“Romantic…” Cézanne called it at the opening.
“Look at the thick rabbit hair, the
freshness of him! Look at the petal soft lips!”
And it was as if a bone
was waved before a pack of wolves, the way
our heads nodded
with concentration, in time.

But how could he not see, we wondered
silently, collective, how the budded mouth was pinched and drained of colour?
How the hair hunched as a rabbit,
cornered, in fear curls from the hounds?
Those slathering jaws.
We seemed, at once, to lick the backsides of our sharpened teeth
while we questioned, what manner of master is this
who has trapped that pair of hunted eyes and smeared them
wild and black upon the wall?

The only sounds besides Cézanne’s exclamations of “Charming,
isn’t it… seductive,” the scraping of toenails
on the polished marble floor and the throaty panting.

The boy himself crept trembling toward the panelled door
praying we would not smell him
as his father always could and the others – children, men…
aware that he was the chosen one, the painter’s sweetmeat.

How we all spent dim and
tortured hours drunkenly fathoming
ways to be inside Cézanne,
to feel the dens and tunnels of brilliance.
How we plotted the death of the favourite.

The capture and killing were too easy
to be ecstatic, merely satisfactory.
His face looked just like the painting
before it was ripped apart by fingers
and teeth.

We were so many.

It seems Cézanne was a prophet
as well as an artist.

We realised we were glad
it was not us he had
made pictures of, or touched.

And we were full, content,
with nothing to be jealous of
and left to rut
in the alleyways
like dogs.

(c) 2006 JL Williams


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