Pierre Bonnard’s Song
He lost his wife, and he stopped painting nudes.
Never again the woman with long legs stretched
out in her bath, in a room of lilac and gold;
or seated on a bench, her copper skin mirrored
in the upholstery and wall; or dressing her hair,
her form like marble, in a room the shades of an oil slick.
His muse died, and he never recovered,
but colour remained his friend.
No matter how darkly he grieved,
he went on creating light.
White blossoms on an almond tree
soaking up the violet-blue
of the clear surrounding sky;
fruit laid on a table against disquieting walls
of amethyst and orange. Fiery peaches,
dusky plum, lemon tinting the sunset.
You see, it was not always happiness
that impelled him to sing.
He spent his last years painting his wings,
to meet the future in a butterfly’s garb.
They were wings like fresh-picked apricots,
like a periwinkle boat on an ice-blue lake,
like red-roofed houses crowding a hillside
that slopes to the shore.
Poet and biographer Catherine Reef has written more than 40 books, including Sarah Bernhardt: The Divine and Dazzling Life of the World’s First Superstar (2020); Mary Shelley: The Strange True Tale of Frankenstein’s Creator (2018); Victoria: Portrait of a Queen (2017); Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse (2016); and Frida & Diego: Art, Love, Life (2014). She is the 2020-2021 recipient of the Children’s Book Guild Nonfiction Award and has received the Sydney Taylor Award, the Joan G. Sugarman Award, and Jefferson Cup and National Jewish Book Award honors. Her poems appear in Visions-International and The Moving Force. Catherine Reef lives and writes in College Park, Maryland.
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