Talking Pictures, by Stella Pye
Mona Lisa (c.1503-1507) Leonardo da Vinci
My maiden name was Gherardini. Had
I still retained that claim, eternal fame
might not have been my lot. My husband’s name
means jocund, happy, never ever sad.
"La Giaconda"; double meaning, glad
by name, so must be glad by nature. Same
in French, "joconde," whichever way you frame
it: "jollity," whichever way you add.
So come on Leonardo, make me smile.
Amuse your muse, do something to beguile
and "keep me full of merriment" to chase
away my melancholy, also while
away the time. So bring me music. I’ll
comply and try to keep a smiling face.
An aerial perspective would decrease
the space between this muse and background – lake
and mountains - merge them into one opaque
scene, nature harmonized and of a piece.
This natural design would then release
her shoulders, place her calmly. I can fake
her sweet demeanour, can contrive to take
perception to belief. But this caprice
for entertainment makes me want to scream
in rima alternata. Well, perhaps
sfumato might suffice to make her seem,
through chiaroscuro, facially to lapse
into a sphinx-like smile, appear to dream
of secrets older than the rocks, perhaps?
Girl with a Fan (1881) Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Pierre painted a scene from father’s bar,
"Le Grenouillere," some time ago, so why
return to paint my picture now? I’ll die
of boredom. Oh! So hot indoors so far
this morning, need to be outside. Mama
insists that right away I go and try
some dresses on, but father says the high-
necked grey, because it suits his little star.
I should have worn the blue and white stripe: cool
and smooth, like pebbles deep inside a pool
and crisp, like beach chairs down at Juan- les- Pins,
or table cloths mama puts out for meals
in le jardin. But do I need this fan?
the blue and white should feel like fresh air feels.
It doesn’t really matter what she wears.
It’s Alphonsine Fournaise’s carefree pose,
her unaffected youthful charm – just those
few fleeting moments frozen - that one cares
to capture, innocent, naive. One dares
to use an ordinary muse, and chose
this girl’s un-classic features, I suppose
because I sense some fresh awareness there.
But on reflection? No. The greenish-grey
the child’s complied by wearing, doesn’t say
those things about her. Maybe lapis blue
would hint at something wistful in her eyes?
A Venus, hearing soft seductive sighs
of wavelets curling round her feet anew?
Woman with a Fan (1908) Pablo Picasso
Sitter addressing Alphonsine Fournaise:
And now you see me, Alphonsine. The age-
old woman whom you’ve just been listening to.
Perhaps you think my head distorted, caged
inside a visor’s nasal. Heavy too:
its oval forehead, bulbous, over-sized,
is pushing outwards, downwards. Thus, I rest
my face in Faiyum shadow, leaden-eyed.
No youthful bloom. No wistful look. Oppressed.
Listen now, and hear my self-composure.
I am all the "Labyrinths and Paths with
Thunder": earth and fire and air’s exposure.
Now Idoto, water goddess; herewith
sanctified by oilbean, python, turtle,
tortoise. Deified by great Okigbo,
soldier-poet, priest incarnate. Tribal
mask of Mother Nature known to Igbo.
Her muted palette makes you feed on form.
In refutation of mimetic art,
this Amazon’s constructions are the norm
of basic laws of geometrics; squares
and circles, cylinders and cones, not fixed,
but shifting images fragmented. There’s
acknowledgement to Fetish, but remixed.
Perceived as "primitive," the ancient mask
has much to teach the Western "civilized."
Authentic, Fundamental Life. The casque
I gave her for her headwear symbolized
her earthy power – terracotta – then
the shape inverted for her eyebrows, and
her wide closed eyes, allows her to ascend
the plane, recede the fan in her right hand.
The Uncertainty of the Poet (1913) Giorgio de Chirico
Sometimes, when wandering alone, a "strange
sensation" overtakes me. Then I see
the world in shades of Nietzsche grey. Do we
believe without a reason in a range
of value systems? Do I rearrange
for Art’s sake laws of credibility?
A barren square, a fractured statue – she
is headless – meaning empty page? Arrange
an Epiphanic Moment! Then, my train
of thought, (seen steaming in the background), bound
for Arte Metafisica, wonders how
these twenty-three bananas should remain
so controversial. Hasn’t it been found
the metaphysics’ art is molto NOW?
I’m Aphrodite’s headless torso. That
implies I write of love in Grecian tropes.
No brainer. That takes care of why and what,
but what about to whom and where? One hopes
it covers when. And what about the shape
of poems? Possibly a sort-of square
could quite well mean a Sonnet. Could I scrape
a Villanelle or Terza Rima? Bare-
ly though, Sestina. What of colour, then?
Does virgin white mean writer’s block? I ought
to add a dash of blackish. How and when?
This writing business needs a bit of thought.
Suppose his train of thought went off the rails,
and chimed un-rhyming? What would that entail?
Stella Pye: Self-Portrait in Green
My husband’s daughters scan me through his eyes,
appraising gazes from their mother’s face.
I wonder what they see, and in this case,
I’d understand the reasons for their "Whys?"
and shouldn’t be surprised, should they despise
a woman writing sestets interlaced,
a nutcase, sometimes gazing into space,
a distant person. Something else besides:
Perhaps they see an arid landscape, quite
denuded of "do you remember whens?,"
insider jokes and silly songs. To show
my "other" self in halfway-decent light,
I might need someone like Rossetti, then
again, perhaps someone I know. I know,
I’ll paint my picture through my father’s eye,
(he won’t disdain my asymmetric face)
and dress myself in green, to signify
my gaucheness, "green as grass," and then I’ll place
myself before my garden background, green
on green. Some better metaphors are new-
ness, freshness, germinesse. I may be seen
in any sense of greening; someone who
is pensive, concentrating on a sound
beyond immediacy of singing birds,
to disremembered cadence newly found,
the fertilizer for unwritten words.
An unknown poet wearing unripe dress,
still incomplete in incompletedness.
The self-portrait that inspired Stella Pye's final poem is imaginary, and the image shown is a placeholder for illustrative purposes.
These works are from Stella Pye's upcoming manuscript, Talking Pictures.
After retiring, Stella Pye earned her Creative Writing M.A. and PhD at home in the U.K. at the University of Bolton, where she is a visiting lecturer. Her poems have been published in Stand, P&A, The Spectator, Able Muse and Poet and Geek. She is a reviewer for Stand.
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