(Rosa Bonheur, Rue des Tournelles, Paris 1836)
My easel billeted
between stove and painting chest,
Most mornings Papa teaches
at an atelier for young ladies,
later portrait sittings–a Portuguese
factory owner, Senhor Micas,
begged, please paint his Nanette
who won’t live to be thirteen.
In one corner in a stanchion, the ewe
little ‘Dodore carries up
six flights each day, then
off to the schoolthat expelled me.
My only other visitor a dull
monochromatic sky frowning through
the open window.
From street noise I conjure
piano chords, the Mozart Mere played
with toy-sized hands. She pauses, fingers
my landscape’s foreground as I paint
grass that sings her lullabies;
each blade, a brief upward stroke
to heaven where you are, Maman.
Far left, a cresting rivulet; center left, three
Lacaune with lambs;
on the right, old oaks shade
so here grass a hue
darker than the Prussian sky.
Each mouton’s white locks spiral back
in time, the feel of fleece, Maman’s hair.
Each ewe’s eyes contented by
a memory that does not fade: You
who were also Papa’s drawing student.
Sky palette. Green palette. Brushes washed
at day’s end with the tenderness
you used bathing baby Juju.
Painting grass soothes me;
bellies of resting sheep warm
the ground where you were buried
in a potter’s field unmarked; your flesh
indistinguishable as a strand of wind .
Today I lay you to rest here, Mere,
so that your remains nourish
my sheepscape, a place on earth to bring
bouquets of everlasting and bluebells
the color of your sighs.
This day’s canvas–remuneration
for your sons’ school fees–finished, signed
as directed, bottom right:
RB, Raymond Bonheur.
Oil-on-canvas painting by French artist Rosa Bonheur (1822–1899)