|Pierre Bonnard, "Bathing Woman,|
Seen from the Back," 1919
I don’t know if Bonnard
would have painted the scene from my window.
Five-twenty in the morning
and the black walnut with its branch of yellow leaves
curves over the rooftops of Poole Foundry
wet from rain. In the parking lot below
a nameless agitator was shot two hours ago,
stalled for a moment beneath the blue lights
of emergency, the squad cars and pulsing sirens.
Bonnard painted wholly from memory the casual gestures
of the streets, the kitchen garden at Le Cannet
seen from the window and, with what must have been
great love, his wife Marthe. I have two prints of her
on my wall, pinned together in the way the painter worked,
two or three canvases at once.
|Pierre Bonnard, "The Bath," 1925|
Here he’s painted a little elegy—the Midi’s
transient light yellow in this print, a standing nude.
The leg of the vanity repeats in the mirror reflecting
an armoire as if the room should divide into
a series of rooms, but it’s only an equation
for the atmosphere touching Marthe’s back,
a lock of hair escaping her chignon. Her hand,
almost shyly, is cupped before her.
Twenty years later, Marthe is in her bath
dissolving in the wash of light on tiles
ultramarine to viridian. I can complete
what the painter leaves out: his wife crushing
lavender into water, the flowering almonds
swaying in the wind outside the house.
His way of resolving the violence of time
on his wife’s body was a gentle arrest
in a churning memory of light.
he sang when he painted, eyes squinted
behind steel-framed glasses, and somehow
sitting here this fragile hour as day ignites,
it helps to watch the shadows on Marthe’s ankle,
the severe yellow arch of her foot
in its violet shoe. I can almost complete
the man’s face. It was mottled. On the wet pavement
rain made little shining rivers beneath his white hand,
the fingers curved almost shyly to his palm.
The sky grows lavender, the bricks sienna.
These colors, Bonnard said, bewilder me.
The Crystal Cage (for Joseph Cornell)
step after step,
in the grainy light,
without breathing harder:
to spy on each landing
a basket of gifts,
a snowbox of wonders:
pressed flowers, pieces
of colored glass,
a postcard from Niagara Falls,
agates, cut-outs of birds,
and dozing in the pile,
in faded mezzotint,
Child Mozart at the Clavichord.
Three days you fasted
to bring you angels:
your square-toed shoes,
friends of your plodding,
are turning weightless.
When the pear-shaped, brindled cat
who lives under the belfry
jumps into your arms
you are not surprised
by the love-look in her amber eyes,
or by the blissful secrets
she confides to you
in oval, pellucid tones.
What if the iron overhead
suddenly starts pounding?
What if, outside,
a terrible storm is raging?
What if, below,
your twisted brother is calling?