William Michaelian

Poems, Notes, and Drawings

L’Absinthe

As silly as it seems, I have even tried, a few times — with questionable success — to write poems based on famous paintings. I first encountered L’Absinthe on the cover of the 1980 printing of the Penguin Classics edition of Zola’s L’Assommoir. That is the image I worked from. It is ideally suited to the novel. The poem, on the other hand, is ideally suited for the bottom of a desk drawer. But all of the drawers in my desk are full. And we have no bird cage.

L'Absinthe

 

 
L’Absinthe

We are in our glory now,
thanks to that stylish artist, Edgar Degas.
He might have painted us that same morning,
when I was too bewildered to pull on my socks
and my wife was unable to find the mirror
beside the armoire we had used for kindling.

A wisp of dirty French sunlight fell upon her hair,
then struggled like a newborn spider to escape.
The sheets were damp with sweat and all awry,
gone with coal dust, liquor, and stale perfume,
a variegated monument of worn-out linen
soiled by lonely, seasick mourners, she and I.

Even so, she found a dress to wear,
with collar frills and sleeves to hide her pale arms.
We dug for coins and I put on my coat and hat,
for the charm and grace left of them and the stature
they implied, tobacco in one pocket, pawn tickets
in the other, to keep us company while we sat.

Such has been our ritual, lo these many years,
of forgetting her labor and my failure to pay the rent.
An empty table is all that we require, a place to rest
our elbows and our drinks while we stare at our
reflections in the street, unmoved by what we see,
no longer caring what it means, or what is best.

As for the dreams we had, like our children,
some of them died and the others simply flew away.
The Revolution passed us by, on angry carriages
steered by drivers who were blind, rattling the bones
of those who live and die in this Parisian sewer,
yet powerless against the inertia of our marriage.

Yes, we are in our glory now,
thanks to that stylish artist, Edgar Degas.
He might have painted us late that night
crawling up the café steps, or later still, when my wife
dragged me home across the dirty stones and tore
her last good dress, cursing in the cold moonlight.

Songs and Letters, May 24, 2005

Categories: Songs and Letters

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