Prostitutes whisper from alleyways,
trickling out of apartments and cabarets,
pouring down Montmartre toward the Seine.
Cart wheels clatter against the street,
while shop girls hum to the patter
of tired feet against the cobbled roads.
She’s working her fingers raw with lye
until the cotton between her fingers glows
against the violet of morning.
Curtains of copper curls hide away
the beads of sweat collecting at her nape –
summer beneath the bakery has little charm.
The painter had drank the night away,
drafting a pair of blushing whores in his bed,
before searching Rue des Saules for a café,
where he spied on shoppers strolling by,
heard them passing out demure bonjours.
His legs ached and his eyelids drooped,
and he considered rousing his models,
reclaiming the wool of his mattress.
He dropped a franc and took up his cane,
limping his way toward Saint-Vincent’s
when a splash of copper caught his eye,
through the door of the corner laundry.
“I am Carmen Gaudin,” a quiet voice, shy,
betrayed by the bite of spoiled meat in her eyes,
to which he swore he would change the stars
if she would let him arrest her in oil.
He let daylight tip-toe across the washboard,
set fire to wild tresses snatched by the breeze,
met the mirror and pinned her brown eyes shut.
He spoke very little, she spoke even less,
only hummed a few bars of gospel now and then,
when the hush of the laundry cried too loudly.
Cutting the wood of his brush between his teeth,
he ached to fill every canvas with her.
One of my favorite painters of all time has to be Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Crippled by childhood misfortunes and bad bones, Lautrec stood at just 4′ 6” tall and was forced to walk with a cane. However, unfortunate as his early life may have been, he didn’t let it stop him from pursuing an artistic career and went on to paint some extremely memorable works such as Hangover (The Drinker), At the Moulin de la Galette 1889 and Seated Dancer In Pink Tights. But my very favorite of his paintings is most definitely “The Laundress” which was one of many painting Lautrec did of Carmen Gaudin who inspired this poem.