“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

                      –Pablo Picasso

1.

First, he mastered the masters:

From his earliest sketches at his father’s knees,

Through Rembrandt, Velasquez and Goya.

(El Greco and Goya he loved

Almost as much as his father.)

They stalked his iconoclast skies;

They called him away to Paris.

 

The ghost of Lautrec goosed the girls

At the Folies Bergeres

And he was good-enough-looking

And fierce enough

To attract the best of the dancers;

Who happily posed, and gladly disrobed

To ride his importunate “paint-brush”!

He happily rode them for hours.

Then he arose, wordless,

And floated into his paintings.

After a couple of days,

He’d wander the banks of the Seine,

Weeping, at Notre Dame,

His face like one of the gargoyle’s,

Gruesome with luminous longing.

 

He’d look for Casagemas, his young-old friend,

Fellow crazy countryman, lost in a dark café,

Behind a bottle of absinthe,

Waxing purple and misty.

 

The two of them shared women

And the sex of all good painting.

They got drunk on the forms together—

The Impressionist gods’ mélange

commissions anointing them

like sacred oil.

 

Painting from sunrise to sunset,

It might have lasted forever

If only the penis of his friend

Worked half as well as his own!

 

If only the errant little “paintbrush”

Had stood up once without drooping,

So his grossly unsatisfied mistress

Hadn’t run off with another,

And beautiful, crazy Casagemas

Hadn’t begged her to meet him

In that crowded café where they always

Talked about all things known.

 

If only the daffy little Spaniard

Hadn’t pulled out the revolver

And splattered his brains on the salver.

 

2.

Then, the blue themes wailed

For a world turned black and blue.

He paints one of Casagemas

Bleeding blue paint from his temple,

A Van Gogh candle scattering

Icicle light from a nightstand.

 

For years he dwells in this blueness.

Commissions dry like old oil;

He is not quite so handsome.

 

He is not exactly mourning:

He is not by a long shot absent.

He is present in street urchins begging

And the glazed gazes of lovers,

Emaciated by longing.

 

His blue is a dictator’s coat

He can never remove for fear

He’ll perjure himself and catch fire

While walking like Daniel through fire.

 

He dissolves in the blue light of Hades,

Returns to the caves of Lascaux—

The primitive, primal impulse,

Eking out forms on a wall.

 

3.

A dozen seasons in hell

He dwells in the blue of all endings

When the tinkling voice of a girl

Somewhere summons him home:

 

The earth is somber in umber;

Burnt sienna mountains

Bake like bread loaves

Under a roseate sun,

Fields profusely becoming.

 

All of it hewed out of slumber

By the skin of a prurient girl

Dancing on tiptoe before him,

Turning pink petals in rose-wind.

 

(An earlier version of this poem was published in Snake Nation Review.)

Gary Steven Corseri is the grandson of Ukrainian-Jewish and Sicilian-Catholic immigrants. He has performed his poems at the Carter Presidential Library and his dramas have been produced on PBS-Atlanta and in universities, high schools and Little Theaters. He has published 2 novels, 1 full collection and 1 prize-winning chapbook of poems. His poems, articles, fiction, dramas have appeared in hundreds of global publications & websites, including: Countercurrents, Village Voice, Redbook Magazine, Miami Herald, The New York Times, and Transcend Media Service. He has taught at universities in the U.S. and Japan, and in US prisons and public schools. He has worked as a grape-picker in Australia, a gas-station attendant, and an editor.


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