Manet's Last Flowers
“But even at his most bitter moments,
Manet’s spirits would revive at the sight of flowers.”*
I would like to paint them all,
not just the English roses and white lilacs foaming
in cut crystal vases, the ones my kind friends present
to me in a heady procession to cheer my studio, my new
sickroom. My eyes thirstily drink in chartreuse wands
waving red tulips, the shimmering peonies and starry clematis.
All this richness I wish to call out again, and yet again,
with my brush, trap their strict voluptuousness
in a few inches of oil paint.
Friends come and go, bringing newspapers, favorite cigars
and gossip, always, from the Nouvelle. But for me, no more
cafes, this room is my world now, since my useless
leg will not answer me, except with pain. I am planted here
like a shrub. So, I smooth the damp sheets,
part my hair in a certain style, and prepare
to make my friends laugh with a witty remark.
As they say, “Manet, that man knows how to live!”
After the farewells, I’ll start a new painting, and why
not? First, a mix of umber and cadmium red for a deep
and fathomless background-one could fall into it.
Then, I’ll addd a shaft of light to illuminate the tabletop,
creating tension. Finally, I will let the vase and blossoms
Tomorrow the doctors come to discuss the leg, to decide
if it must come off. But first, these wildly fragrant lilacs-
with all my remaining force, I want to capture
their fugitive beauty.
*from The Last Flowers of Manet, Robert Gordon and Andrew Forge, Abradale Books.
Chris Cantu is a visual artist and poet. She has work in an upcoming anthology published by Arachne Press of London. Her poems have also appeared in Switched-on Gutenberg, the Atlanta Review, Mid-America Poetry Review, and more.
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