*Image: “Child Playing: Annette in front of the Rail-Backed Chair” by Edouard Vuillard, 21.06” X 14.96”, 1900,
(Owner: Art Institute of Chicago. Image courtesy of: The Athenaeum)
Lisa Beech Hartz
CHILD PLAYING: ANNETTE IN FRONT OF THE RAIL-BACKED CHAIR, EDOUARD VUILLARD, 1897
He scrawls the iron bedstead, silent
but for the hush hush now of the pencil,
so that the child forgets him.
She studies the chocolate box he brought her,
its gilded edges. She lifts the lid over and over.
The lid sighs each time she lifts it.
Soon, she’ll slide the box into her pocket, save it
to hold very small found things. Special pinks,
marvelous oranges. A green too vaporous to name.
He will paint her dress turquoise, cream.
All else looming. Aching slates and ashes. There
and not there. She doesn’t know she must be
herself and two more. Are the dead ones here?
The sharp scent of oil will shift as it dries, an echo
of itself and this longing. Is this love,
the calibrated wish to capture and transform?
And how are we to know when a love has ended?
The child had forgotten him, as he had intended.
Thrummed off to some other interior.
VUILLARD AND MISIA IN THE RUE DU DEPART, 1909
Washed over by the clamor and splash of the afternoon café, he watches her with opaque eyes. The cigarette sighs in his nicotine beard. The table, a stone between them, rests on thinly wrought legs. The chair seems barely to contain her. Just beyond the soft resignation of her shoulders, the lovely graylight illuminates the café window. Her hard little mouth settles into its downward curve. She speaks and her words fall, dropped coins in an empty tray. I am not what you want. A long time ago, yes, many years. As a child requires a cake behind glass. How startled he is! How slapped! He lights another cigarette to occupy his hands. Beauty has undraped itself from her like a lover will in sleep, leaving only a sorrow of reminiscence. Her fingers flit along the table’s edge. She trembles almost imperceptibly. Then, from across the room the crash of a glass, shattering. The patrons silenced by that violence. He doesn’t speak, remembering he was once drawn to the vulnerable nape of her neck, and fell in love with the silver bell of her earring, its stubborn silence. The voices rise again to fill the void.
THE GOLDFISH WINDOW, CHILDE HASSAM, 1916
In the yellow morning she combs her fingers through
the knots the night’s rocking has left in her hair.
A dozen strands form an amber cloud. She steps
to the open window and offers it to the breeze
which spirits it away. Nesting season. Perhaps
she’ll see those strands again. Water murmurs
in the bowl. Light ripple and goldflash. An unseen
bird flirts from the shadowed camellia. Bruised
petals, pinestraw. The nest, the one the birdsong is conjuring:
an open cup of surrendered woven things.
WATERHOUSE WILL NOT FINISH THE ENCHANTED GARDEN, 1917
Azure as it was in Rome. Oppressive, remote, sublime. The color
blue against the skin. The mythic tale the skin tells. The ancient tattoo.
Circe and Echo. Always echo. No pain but haggard. So haggard
and so woe-begone. Nino, his mother called, her voice vermillion. Her dress
a hem of cockleshells. His father said she’d flown to Avalon. His tears
not dropping but suspended, crystalline. Consumption. The heroic cut
to his shoulders gone. London sun, midwinter white, the gloaming
in his rooms. The child’s face, unfinished.
The imprecision of age, he thinks. What is outside us, what is
within. Camellia, foxglove, rhododendron. The oilscent
intoxicates. The cancer whispers in the outer room. Merciful
cold, merciful darkness. Merciful Keats and Tennyson.
The comfort of a well-learned passage, a wellworn
corridor. Yes, the flowers. What remains. Composed from
memory. In the garden the roses bloom. And beyond them,
MODERSOHN-BECKER HOLDS HER NEWBORN FOR THE FIRST TIME, 1907
Bauble, bébé, thief. You
began as an ache in the back
of my throat. Something left
unsaid. The place you grew from
fills, refills. The womb awash.
We women reside inside
Before your pate dries,
I know the hues.