Edgar Degas, L’Absinthe, 1876
I have seen you both in the morning street
Raving in the oily mud and the horse dung
Until the one of you takes a bottle to beat
The other’s back like a trampled rug
Then you fall in a heap on the canal bank
Tugging at each other in your shouting love.
You push and gripe and then lummox
Where you are, singing to everyone and to no one
Beside the junk and heaps of riffled slag.
Then you come in here slowly as if no one
Knew you, he—pretending to be a poet--
Watches the sun die out in the curtains.
You, listing, with eyes wrung out of sight,
Wake to find I pour you more absinthe.
Under your hovering bangs, a crooked stare
Hangs and drifts over your last good blouse.
It is your face that holds the corpse of a star,
A weak chinned light, that at first glance
Seems about to know, but upon a second look
Shows a constellation of bludgeoned grace.
Your pupils do not watch the emptying room
Nor study your glass’s green roil to white.
They do not read or see or presume.
Stubbed out, they wince at absinthe’s light:
Two black thumb prints on an empty carafe.
I have watched hands fumble to open all night
And watched them fumble to close, and laughed,
As miners’ wives do before husbands’ cenotaphs.
I talk to you for hours until I am ashamed.
There is an utter failure in staring a long time.
You have taught me this. I look away,
And look back again. Nothing of yours is mine,
And everything. Your shoe’s frilly tasseled lace,
Your blouse the colour of offal, hat supine.
To have you now would be to claim a grave,
And yet I’d have that grave, and not be honest
And work to keep you drunk and keep you late.
So when he looks away, I charge your glass.
You do not turn. You do not even look.
You say nothing. Your lips as still as a gash.
I empty out these emerald dregs in love,
And call you back to me with wormwood.
Andrew D. Miller
Andrew D. Miller is an American-born poet in Denmark, where he studied for his PhD in ekphrastic writing and photography. His poems have been widely published, in The Massachussett's Review, Ekphrasis, Iron Horse, Shenandoah, Spoon River Reivew, Laurel Review, Hunger Mountain, Rattle, New Orleans Review and more. He has been nominated for the Pushcart four times in total, three from Ekphrasis Magazine.
The Ekphrastic Review
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