Three Poems by Jeanine Stevens

Collage Venus arrives in Paris collage by jeanine stevens
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,
tiptoe, bump
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.

Picasso’s motto
“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
and morphine,
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
selling postcards.

 

Madeleine

           Calligramme, Guillaume Apollinaire

From the small Arabian town
I took a keepsake,
the memory
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.

Dear Madeleine,
I remember your voice in my ear
like a sprite abuzz
with too many words.

I apologize
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

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