Jo Hiffernan: La Belle Irlandaise
Who in her right mind wouldn’t trade Symphony in White, No. 1:
The White Girl for the candor of L’Origine du Monde? Or the chance
to entwine milky limbs with Helène Clareaux under Prussian blue
canopies, pearls spilling across pink sheets, portrait vase agape
with roses, ivorine hair combs loose in the bedclothes?
When Whistler saw Courbet’s finished canvas, he dropped
you for the parlour maid, but you arranged to keep their son
for yourself and your hand in the business. Years later,
Freer remembered you at Whistler’s funeral, “…I saw the thick
wavy hair…although it was streaked with gray, I knew at once
it was Johanna,… ‘la belle Irlandaise…’ ” come to pay her last
respects. You remembered how Whistler and Swinburne
dismissed you as “soft snows that hard winds harden.”
But not Courbet, who caught you with that cascade of russet
in one hand and a mirror in the other—no comb, no reflection,
just your sensible gaze, appraising eye, self-possessed, ready.
Kate Fox's work has appeared the New OHIO Review, Great River Review, KROnline, Pleiades, and other literary journals, and she has published two chapbooks: The Lazarus Method through Kent State U Press, and Walking Off the Map through Seven Kitchens Press. She lives in Athens, Ohio, with her partner, Bob DeMott, and two English Setters.
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