Venus Arrives in Paris – © Jeanine Stevens
At the Art Academy
After a photo—Montparnasse
by Ivan Massar, 1949
Students in Peter-Pan collars work the angles.
The model’s platform rests next to a cold stove.
Water pitcher and coalscuttle gather dust.
The nude, hair coiffed in curls, is an oval shape
caught on thin bones, nature morte, placed
just so. Cramped, she focuses on the soft sound
of charcoal, the gentle eraser’s occasional rub.
It helps to slip into reverie, go where
cramps hold her calf and the arm’s numb elbow.
In a three-piece suit, the jaunty instructor,
lower lip dangling a cigarette,
hurries by, heels tapping, eyes elsewhere.
The room is heavy with women’s scent, pungent
oil, turpentine and smudge.
She looks forward to the slow walk by the Seine
watching others in luxury barges. Maybe someone
will wave a gloved hand. There are wages enough
to buy food for the cat, bread and tomatoes for mother.
The Bateau Lavoir
Birthplace of Cubism
Named for the swaying laundry barges
docked along the Seine, you are
a lopsided house of cards,
a pile of worn timbers,
an empty rabbit warren.
I rub a grimy window, peer
into barren cubicles and there
a canvas, a few brushes,
rusty stove to warm,
a green earthenware basin,
yellow soap, cracked plate with remnants
of a small cassoulet,
coarse bread, over ripe
Reblochon cheese and a strong wine.
Mounting rickety stairs,
I sidestep loosely stacked easels on an open balcony,
descend splintered steps,
through angled corridors
reaching a jumble of small studios.
Over one door, La Bande a Picasso.
Inside, a steamer trunk painted black,
a rush chair, mattress,
bottles of paraffin,
and a white mouse, tamed,
still waiting in an open drawer.
“Living Badly, Working Calmly”
faintly scratched on the narrow sill.
What songs were sung, garlands
strung at this pollination, incubation—
blue enamel and linseed oil
running between floorboards:
potash, lime and marl
fertilizing this grotto, seedbed
of off-center cubes, disharmonic faces?
Picasso moved on to richer lodgings,
but others remained, creative
forces gushing through walls, racing
to outrun hashish, opium
before personalities multiplied too soon,
ending in hospitals and hangings.
Today, there is an open window,
street sounds and laughter,
those heated conversations echoing
defenses of form. And, you
remain—a small storefront café
Calligramme, Guillaume Apollinaire
From the small Arabian town
I took a keepsake,
of a star pulsating with new fire
engorged on desert heat.
Above the clove-scented rooftops,
five points gleamed overlarge
in the azure sky.
I wanted to fill
my heart with music but
the tender muscle lay open
its boundary for another song.
I remember your voice in my ear
like a sprite abuzz
with too many words.
for crossing you out.
The studio portrait I’ve expected
for so long…arrived today!
On the back, the photographer’s
logo: a burnt rose
and twin cannons aflame.
© Jeanine Stevens