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Seven Studies for MARIE-HORTENSE


        On the last day of the Salon, Rilke wrote to his wife
        about the bow on Madame Cézanne’s blouse,
        the colours of her face, how vulnerable she seemed
        and lost, then in another picture, clutching
        her handkerchief or possibly a flower, so slight
        she seemed almost to levitate. He rhapsodized
        about the colour of her dress, the wallpaper and how,
        walking home in rain along Rue Cassette,
        he was already forgetting which blue was next to which
        and what the sleeves had said, what the armchair meant.


Dear Madame CHOCQUET,

        We are going to leave on Thursday or Friday for Switzerland
        where we expect to end the season. I feel better
        than when I left and am hoping the trip will put me right 
        completely. My husband has been working pretty well,
        despite being disturbed. Yes, I have read Émile’s book.
        I don’t know what to think and Paul won’t say anything;
        he’s eccentric—he just wanders off into the country.
        You saw from my previous letter that the drawings are at
        [illegible]. You have no idea how much trouble this causes me.
        I only wish [illegible]. I embrace you with all my heart
        and am your affectionate

                                                Hortense CÉZANNE


        When the young Cézanne was lifedrawing
        at the Suisse (drawings he’d rehash all his life),
        he put a top hat and a scarf, a white scarf,
        next to the model so he could better judge the tones
        as when my tutor showed me a facsimile copy
        he’d made of Cézanne’s portrait of his wife –
        unshowy, unassertive, almost dull in its faithfulness
        to fact – and asked me to study the highlights
        on Madame Cézanne’s face, her paling brow
        and inward-looking gaze, before holding
        a heavy sheet of cartridge paper up against it
        to show me just how quiet a quiet white could be.


        Infrared reflectogram shows her abandoned
        under a picture of L’Estaque, her upper arm
        and shoulder (when the canvas was turned around)
        contributing to the hills above Marseille.
        We know he had difficulty with hands
        and either left them out or left them bare.
        As the picture developed, stroke by stoke,
        he veiled her sympathetic face, deadening
        the eyes by darkening the whites, then
        with a square-ended brush he’d work in emerald
        and iron ochre – freely at first then making corrections.
        She told Matisse that her husband didn’t know
        how to finish a picture and the bottom
        of her dress is either boldly loose, showing
        underdrawing and pooling dark blue paint,
        or is indeed unkempt. Sometimes he’d conclude
        with anti-representational effects, closing off
        the space so the affair and eventual marriage
        had to be settled among the colours themselves.


        Is it sadness, quite—lost in a brown look
        in a blue blouse with parted hair, against a wall
        that gathers around her like her troubles? 
        Bored probably, sitting in a conservatory
        or by a study of trees. And was it a present,
        an apology or a plea, that little drawing,
        with her head propped on her arm
        in bed, dreamy next to a study of hortensia?
        I watch her as she breaks into graphite
        and watercolour, mophead flowers,
        high leaves and the sunlight through them.


        Rewald found her money-grubbing, trivial and plain.
        The painter’s friends called her Dumpling
        and gossiped in their mail. After Cézanne died,
        she sold everything she could, not caring if
        they were portraits of herself or of her son.
        Only two letters in her hand survive, the missing wife
        shuttling back and forth from Paris to L’Estaque.
        And yet she stayed with him all that time, sat
        for portrait after portrait, forbidden to speak
        or move: seated in a red armchair; tilting her head;
        leaning on a table; wearing a hat.


        So Matisse is surely right about the wives
        of artists who have to watch their foolish husbands
        make a table with its legs up in the air.


        Rereading Rilke’s letters on Cézanne,
        it’s the rain that stays, October rain,
        day in, day out, lavering pavements,
        choking sewers—carriage splash,
        drain music—with Rilke wearing galoshes
        stepping around puddles, across
        gutters, walking upstairs to the Salon

        where all he could see were the Cézannes—
        the reds and russets responding; the blues
        quietening; the yellows and acid greens
        hesitating then stepping forward—
        trees and skies, card players
        and Madame Cézanne’s flaring between
        these monsieurs in frock-coats,

        these talkative ladies in Paris fashions—
        keeping a part of the world safe,
        no, not safe, seen, like a glass of rain water
        where colours mix not to sulphur and shit
        (the coming century of mayhem)
        but to cloud-grey, rain-grey:
        union of opposites; epitome of peace.

TWO DOZEN Mongoose-Hair Brushes      

        The teaspoon and the sugar bowl
        live a lively life, inserting themselves
        democratically into the company
        of a pleated dress and boxer hands,

        Giacometti’s exploding head.
        The coffee pot, which is nightingale-tall,
        might sing on a summer’s night
        in gun-metal grey and flecked white,

        putting his absurd theories into practice
        in a world of tilts and touchables
        created by a painter, according to Bernard,
        phobic about touch: C’est effrayant, la vie.

        After the final letter to his son –
        the weather is such-and-such;
        I’m not doing too badly; say hello
        to Monsieur and Madame Legoupil

        (going to the window again to ask
        Madame Brémond about the sky) –
        after they’d pulled off his wet clothes,
        there were four days confined to bed

        worrying about his father the hat-maker,
        hat-salesman, exporter of felt hats
        (local style), speculator in rabbit skins,
        money lender, banker who bought the bank.

        He asked Vallier to set up the watercolour –
        ‘I am old and ill and I have vowed
        to die painting’. The wine bottle
        or cognac bottle is so scrutinized
        it might contain mountains or a goose
        while the grapes are caught in the act
        of disappearing or of dreaming themselves
        back into form, moving, as Rilke said

        the angels moved, between the living
        and the dead. The apricots blossom
        in apricot colours, inquiétude, jouissance,
        truth (I suppose) and white paper.

Maitreyabandhu’s first full collection, The Crumb Road (Bloodaxe, 2013) is a PBS Recommendation. His new collection Yarn (also with Bloodaxe) was published in autumn 2015. His pamphlet The Bond won the Poetry Book and Pamphlet Competition and was shortlisted for the Michael Marks Award. His second pamphlet, Vita Brevis won the Iota Shots Award and is a PBS Pamphlet Choice. He lives and works at the London Buddhist Centre.

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Partner to a press called Tenement, Hotel is a publications series for new approaches to fiction, non fiction & poetry & features work from established & emerging talent. Hotel provides the space for experimental reflection on literature’s status as art & cultural mediator. 

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