Triptych: Madame Cézanne in a Red Armchair
~after a line by John Ashbery
I. Objects, too, are important. Take the chair, its reverse C, mitt-like cushioning the gaze of
Madame—armchair that haunted Rilke with its splotchy reds, pink spot & swathe of gray-green.
This painting was three portraits: Madame’s devoir, hair in a brown bun, hands in her lap,
lilac blouse and green striped skirt on chair, and behind: once ochre wallpaper with azure
crosses or stars, an imperfect constellation.
II. However long she took to be an apple; however long the chair; however the colours became
one canvas; however the shapes clothing Madame; the shapes clothing the room and the air too;
at once: a suspension of Madame, chair, and shapes; however long the room remained a secret
in Aix; however the upper left corner uncovers more polygons…
III. Like the symmetric torso of Madame we might call composure. The eyes are there, as is
a red tassel on the right side of chair, some paint that brushes her face. Out of frame: a modicum
of joy, mostly from repetition. Praise chafes. Give nothing away in the artist’s thoughts, Madame thinking the same. After thirty portraits, what did she say when the painting was finished?
If the chair had been upholstered in a different colour, would the backdrop disappear?
Eric Steineger teaches English at Mars Hill University. He is the Senior Poetry Editor of The Citron Review, while his work has been featured in The Los Angeles Review, Rattle: The Poets Respond, Waxwing, Tinderbox, and other journals. Occasionally, he curates poetry events for Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. He lives in Asheville with his wife and daughter.
The Ekphrastic Review
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