Surveillance Notes, by Bill Manhire

In Sweden, they whispered all winter,
counting the frozen minutes.
In France, they branched out. Tips of experience.
In England, they dreamed of Ireland.
In Ireland they seemed to be lonely.
Germany was Belgium then was Spain.
Italy was something else again.
Portugal, Portugal, Portugal:
they said that a lot because they never went back.
Later in Hungary, he lay on his back
and watched the clouds—so few of them
but each one big and fluffy. In the first dream
the angel was having a dream; in the next dream
the angel still clung to his story.

Study In Orange And White, by Billy Collins

I knew that James Whistler was part of the Paris scene,
but I was still surprised when I found the painting
of his mother at the Musée d’Orsay
among all the colored dots and mobile brushstrokes
of the French Impressionists.

And I was surprised to notice
after a few minutes of benign staring,
how that woman, stark in profile
and fixed forever in her chair,
began to resemble my own ancient mother
who was now fixed forever in the stars, the air, the earth.

You can understand why he titled the painting
“Arrangement in Gray and Black”
instead of what everyone naturally calls it,
but afterward, as I walked along the river bank,
I imagined how it might have broken
the woman’s heart to be demoted from mother
to a mere composition, a study in colorlessness.

As the summer couples leaned into each other
along the quay and the wide, low-slung boats
full of spectators slid up and down the Seine
between the carved stone bridges
and their watery reflections,
I thought: how ridiculous, how off-base.

It would be like Botticelli calling “The Birth of Venus”
“Composition in Blue, Ochre, Green, and Pink,”
or the other way around
like Rothko titling one of his sandwiches of color
“Fishing Boats Leaving Falmouth Harbor at Dawn.”

Or, as I scanned the menu at the cafe
where I now had come to rest,
it would be like painting something laughable,
like a chef turning on a spit
over a blazing fire in front of an audience of ducks
and calling it “Study in Orange and White.”

But by that time, a waiter had appeared
with my glass of Pernod and a clear pitcher of water,
and I sat there thinking of nothing
but the women and men passing by—
mothers and sons walking their small fragile dogs—
and about myself,
a kind of composition in blue and khaki,
and, now that I had poured
some water into the glass, milky-green.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Freemason, by Jascha Kessler

Where the heart was, a domestic chasm, an abyss bridged by snow
As France, once great, collapsed into tourism and poetry
Behind the sublimity, obscene

Unable to command even the words useful to propose toasts
Having filled space beneath the zodiac with debris
And found the moon in its rounds merely vague

This is the town he has chosen to live out his time in:

A DELUXE BODY & FENDER SHOP
BUILDING SUPPLIES
DRUGS
FUNERAL SERVICES
FLORIST
HARDWARE
INSURANCE & REAL ESTATE
MEATS & GROCERIES in emergencies call THE OPERATOR (dial zero)

He conforms to everything
He worships pleasantly
He tinkers endlessly with mixed drinks
He reneges on the Revolution, though it tore him from his chains
He tolerates melioratives
He addresses queries to psychiatrists who answer in
newspaper columns
He deplores the inhumanity of the avant/garde
He praises fools, and suffers them gladly
He preserves himself out of perversity, and perseveres

And in secret, at odd moments, he makes metaphors of royalty
Self piteously beginning Petrarchan sonnets thus:

After the Coronation
Forthright, busy Fortinbras summoned me,
Courteous, condoled a little, and then,
Snapping for his secretary, took pen
And signed me out ofhis drumming country…

Surmising that force brings no apples from the bare branch
Like a dark prophet in a wilderness of bright people
Full of exotic necessities
Or like a rational Messiah
Sojourning with brutes, sweet boys and hairy girls,
He busies himself studying the culture of perfume advertisements

Any God, by Gail Martin

The rocks beneath her heart began to move
the night her daughter lost her native tongue.
No god of French-milled soap and lavender
could build a church on cradled hands and love.

The night that artist lost her native tongue
something seismic dropped, rolled away,
faith in that childish church of hands tested
and sung, the green-faced violinist played.

Something seismic drops through an open heart
these nights, gone missing between the cradle and now.
The face of the violinist green and dark,
fiddling toward some unknown gift, not found.

Gone missing between the cradle and now, hands reach
for any god—of hardboiled eggs, of nail heads—
fiddling on toward gifts not recognized nor found.
The girl keeps playing, beating time. She says

any god will do: god of plum pits, ice cubes,
dog hair, there’s always something to believe in.
This girl—the gift we recognize—found
and rocked, o hourglass god, beneath my heart.

The Dover Bitch, by Anthony Hecht

A Criticism of Life: for Andrews Wanning

So there stood Matthew Arnold and this girl
With the cliffs of England crumbling away behind them,
And he said to her, ‘Try to be true to me,
And I’ll do the same for you, for things are bad
All over, etc., etc.’
Well now, I knew this girl. It’s true she had read
Sophocles in a fairly good translation
And caught that bitter allusion to the sea,
But all the time he was talking she had in mind
The notion of what his whiskers would feel like
On the back of her neck. She told me later on
That after a while she got to looking out
At the lights across the channel, and really felt sad,
Thinking of all the wine and enormous beds
And blandishments in French and the perfumes.
And then she got really angry. To have been brought
All the way down from London, and then be addressed
As a sort of mournful cosmic last resort
Is really tough on a girl, and she was pretty.
Anyway, she watched him pace the room
And finger his watch-chain and seem to sweat a bit,
And then she said one or two unprintable things.
But you mustn’t judge her by that. What I mean to say is,
She’s really all right. I still see her once in a while
And she always treats me right. We have a drink
And I give her a good time, and perhaps it’s a year
Before I see her again, but there she is,
Running to fat, but dependable as they come.
And sometimes I bring her a bottle of Nuit d’ Amour.

Getting Close, by Victoria Redel

Because my mother loved pocketbooks
I come alive at the opening click or close of a metal clasp.

And sometimes, unexpectedly, a faux crocodile handle makes me weep.

Breathy clearing of throat, a smooth arm, heels on pavement, she lingers, sound tattoos.

I go to the thrift store to feel for bobby pins caught in the pocket seam
of a camel hair coat.

I hinge a satin handbag in the crease of my arm. I buy a little change purse with its
curled and fitted snap.

My mother bought this for me. This was my mother’s.

I buy and then I buy and then, another day, I buy something else.

In Paris she had a dog, Bijou, and when they fled Paris in 1942 they left the dog behind.

When my mother died on February 9, 1983, she left me.

Now, thirty years later and I am exactly her age.

I tell my husband I will probably die by the end of today and all day he says, Are you
getting close, Sweetheart? And late in the afternoon, he asks if he should buy enough filet
of sole for two.

From a blue velvet clutch I take out a mirror and behold my lips in the small rectangle.

Put on something nice. Let him splurge and take you out for dinner, my mother whispers
on the glass.

The Bistro Styx, by Rita Dove

She was thinner, with a mannered gauntness
as she paused just inside the double
glass doors to survey the room, silvery cape
billowing dramatically behind her. What’s this,

I thought, lifting a hand until
she nodded and started across the parquet;
that’s when I saw she was dressed all in gray,
from a kittenish cashmere skirt and cowl

down to the graphite signature of her shoes.
“Sorry I’m late,” she panted, though
she wasn’t, sliding into the chair, her cape

tossed off in a shudder of brushed steel.
We kissed. Then I leaned back to peruse
my blighted child, this wary aristocratic mole.

“How’s business?” I asked, and hazarded
a motherly smile to keep from crying out:
Are you content to conduct your life
as a cliché and, what’s worse,

an anachronism, the brooding artist’s demimonde?
Near the rue Princesse they had opened
a gallery cum souvenir shop which featured
fuzzy off-color Monets next to his acrylics, no doubt,

plus beared African drums and the occasional miniature
gargoyle from Notre Dame the Great Artist had
carved at breakfast with a pocket knife.

“Tourists love us. The Parisians, of course”—
she blushed—“are amused, though not without
a certain admiration . . .”
The Chateaubriand

arrived on a bone-white plate, smug and absolute
in its fragrant crust, a black plug steaming
like the heart plucked from the chest of a worthy enemy;
one touch with her fork sent pink juices streaming.

“Admiration for what?” Wine, a bloody
Pinot Noir, brought color to her cheeks. “Why,
the aplomb with which we’ve managed
to support our Art”—meaning he’d convinced

her to pose nude for his appalling canvases,
faintly futuristic landscapes strewn
with carwrecks and bodies being chewed

by rabid cocker spaniels. “I’d like to come by
the studio,” I ventured, “and see the new stuff.”
“Yes, if you wish . . .” A delicate rebuff

before the warning: “He dresses all
in black now. Me, he drapes in blues and carmine—
and even though I think it’s kinda cute,
in company I tend toward more muted shades.”

She paused and had the grace
to drop her eyes. She did look ravishing,
spookily insubstantial, a lipstick ghost on tissue,
or as if one stood on a fifth-floor terrace

peering through a fringe of rain at Paris’
dreaming chimney pots, each sooty issue
wobbling skyward in an ecstatic oracular spiral.

“And he never thinks of food. I wish
I didn’t have to plead with him to eat. . . .” Fruit
and cheese appeared, arrayed on leaf-green dishes.

I stuck with café crème. “This Camembert’s
so ripe,” she joked, “it’s practically grown hair,”
mucking a golden glob complete with parsley sprig
onto a heel of bread. Nothing seemed to fill

her up: She swallowed, sliced into a pear,
speared each tear-shaped lavaliere
and popped the dripping mess into her pretty mouth.
Nowhere the bright tufted fields, weighted

vines and sun poured down out of the south.
“But are you happy?” Fearing, I whispered it
quickly. “What? You know, Mother”—

she bit into the starry rose of a fig—
“one really should try the fruit here.”
I’ve lost her, I thought, and called for the bill.