from “Speaking of Maria Blanchard”
(Maud Sumner, her former student speaks)
"C'est fini, n'y touchez plus,"
she would sometimes say.
when I wanted to work longer on a certain canvas.
"Then take another one, and go further
on that, if you can, doing the same subject."
"Tant pis si on est malade,"
as if not sick, she struggled to earn enough.
Matisse, Claudel, and Severini used to come.
Picasso not so much, busy
with his own work. But he was at her funeral.
She was in great pain,
and I could hear her cursing. Maria
slipped away quietly in my arms.
I still have bits of her furniture. Friends
have said to me, "Why don't you get some nicer?"
I don't always tell them the reason.
MARIA BLANCHARD'S MOTHER
Her husband forgot her name, forgot his horse
in the woods of Santander, and , most often, forgot
their daughter, her kyphosis clear at her birth.
The beautiful wife, forgotten, ignored her daughter, too.
The refined, hurt mother, the legerdemainist
charmed the neighborhood children at her own sickbed.
From under her pillow she'd pull fruit and sparrows.
And keys! How she'd lose them to find them
for the children's amusement: on the armoire,
behind Jaime's ear, in the mouth of the dog.
Over and over, she'd lose, then reproduce them,
trying to prove she hadn't forgotten or lost..
Marie grew smaller and smaller, her head,
sinking into her shoulders like a buoy pulled through water,
away from the taunts of the townsmen who thought
touching lottery tickets to a cripple would bring good luck
"Only in Spain!" she cried, and left for Paris.
She returned with cubism, and turned it in later
for her own vision: the lost, sick, and lonely
in searing colors laid on with a knife,
so stylized her mother even got the point.
Then came the famous, The First Communion, then
her last scenes, all mothers and children. A dry search
for God, Lorca said, "no angels, no miracles."
TO MY SISTER
Now that I can’t speak to you any more
as we used to on Christmas Eve
or the night before the union picnic
when we’d egg each other on
later and later and collapse asleep together,
neither recalling who went first, never
speaking and not getting an answer.
All your life you faced life as we did
as children, lifting our faces
to the pelting rain of the Fourth of July flood.
We lived on a hill, never knew anything
but the rich slick touch of soft water
on our cheeks and chin in the dark.
So that last night I stretched
between two chairs, to be close
in case you called out one last time
And in the end, it was I who called
in a whisper and I keep whispering and whispering
these late nights, listening for your breath
to see if at last we can rest easy.
LEAVE-TAKING IN SWAMPSCOTT
for Nancy and Richard, after Li Bai
One guest has left for the north,
the Atlantic continues to crash above the east wall,
you kneel over your dying cat and I stand behind.
Good-byes said last night, I think to back out,
leaving you with this grief, but you stand,
turn your teary face my way, west, hundreds
of miles I will be thinking of all the farewells
there are in the world. Siri, sweet mutt, bends
in her deep downward facing dog
as we bow our heads and part.
© Diane Kendig