Still Life with a Lemon
You wear a striped shirt,
stare into the camera, lips straight,
gaze hard. The room dark,
filled with paintings.
A cigarette hangs from your hand.
You see a horse in a palm tree,
a green parrot in a salad.
Fire in a tulip.
You soak a brush in turpentine,
swirl it until red paint comes off.
You don’t lie still
when you hear Guernica is bombed.
Smoke fills the room,
you pace up and down.
You hold a palette of grey, black and white.
You still love, paint a portrait
of Dora Maar, your wife in another flat.
In the room are ceramics, piles of books,
a still life with a lemon.
A journalist asks if there is a link
between art and politics.
Painting is not meant to decorate apartments,
You stay up all night and paint,
even in occupied Paris.
When you paint your eight-year-old daughter, Maya,
with a stern look,
it is you that you are looking at,
your own portrait.
Editor’s Statement (written by Poetry Editor Jonah Meyer)
The use of strong, striking imagery throughout Corcos’ poem is paramount. It is as if the reader is right there with Picasso, in his dark, smoke-filled studio, colorful paintings, books, ceramics crowding the scene. That the destruction of war is happening outside the periphery of the poem, but does not infringe upon the artist’s passionate dedication to his craft creates a surreal, cinematic aesthetic, simultaneously captivating and discomforting. Corcos’ choice to compose this piece in second-person vantage-point is a strong choice which works well. Finally, Picasso’s declaration that “Painting is not meant to decorate apartments” to the inquiring journalist, here in occupied Paris, is a powerful punch to the gut. I absolutely love this poem.
I wrote this poem to show Picasso in a variety of ways – not only as a painter, but as a man who saw the world differently, a man with a strong ego who was not fearful of politics or standing up to power. Although he had his weaknesses, and there are many ways to critique him, he was without doubt a unique artist.