by Zilka Joseph
Inspired by Hippolyte-Jean Flandrin’s 1846 painting "Madame Louis Antoinette Cambourg," at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
You make me wear velvet darker than horses,
drape a blue shawl with gold flowers
over the arm of this brown satin chair
where I sit bare necked, bare shouldered.
Still I wear a tear-drop brooch near my heart,
my mother's pearls on my wrist
they look like cream in the black bowl of my dress,
then you paint my skin the color of dawn,
and though you pull my hair back
to make my eyes moons
I turn them into evening shadows
drawing darkness like magnets.
I sit as you wish me to, look you in the face
with barely veiled boredom;
so paint as you please, monsieur,
these petal lips will not smile for you.
2. The Artist
Dark-gowned, mild-mannered, pearl finished,
a soft brown chair holds you;
I arrange your turquoise shawl, its gold pattern gentle
as your pale hands draped like silk on black velvet;
your cream and rose shoulders rise like Venus
from waves the color of night, yet your eyes,
madame, dimmed suns they are
and do not smile, do not tell why
they watch me drown like a black moth
in the vortex of their brown pools that seem to see
nothing, yet stab me like two knives
as if I were a picture you wish to destroy.