Tag Archives: writing

Carmen Gaudin Meets Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

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.

Deciduous King

He impressed perfection from a distance –
like the memory of a moment over-imagined –
lording over his forest
of choked black walnuts and rotting sycamores.

His trunk stands a skyscraper,
so tall that you could climb to the very top
and pluck the stars from the sky
to tuck into your pocket for when you need its light.

But when you brush the bark,
the beauty sheds away, the more visible the flaws become
until all that’s left
are the knots in the wood and the bark crumbling away –

and an old, scraggly wound
running through the core of the deciduous king,
a markings of revolution
in the seam of lighting that’d deposed him.

Between the back porch and main street

Between The Back Porch and Main Street

Years pass like rogue taxidermists,
change the mundane into artifacts,
guts the novelty of newness
from every timber in a house
and stuffs them back up with dust,
’til grime pours out of every vein
and spills out on the floorboards
which have buckled under years and rain.
Paint chips have weathered into wrinkles.
The breeze sculpts creases and crinkles
in the curtains where the moths have
managed to build their nests .

Funny how a house
stays a home,
even after all the people have abandoned her,
even after no one calls her home.

Thank the honey locust
who could no longer hold the treehouse,

Who puts a treehouse up a honey locust?

Sunk a cavern into the pantry,
chased out all the people,
allowing in the birds and sunbeams and snowstorms
and a family of raccoons who moved into the parlor.

They’ve been paying rent for years now,
gathered a varmints-fortune in rusted bolts,
nuts, scraps of twinkling treasures,
and tucked them safely in the bathroom sink .

When the rain comes, the tub plugged with
dirt and cicada corpses creeps full,
stirs up a film of algae and earth
painting a cloudy tapestry on the surface.
Hydrangeas used to grow in the kitchen window
where now there are only dandelions.

**The point of this particular assignment was to write a poem that showed how beauty changes. I grew up in a community that is shrinking year after year and what stays are the abandoned houses. Nearly 2/3 of the houses in town are unoccupied by my rough count. When I was younger, I didn’t have much to do but explore the emptiness of my town but I learned to see the beauty in nature slowly taking over what had once been so civilized.

We also had to include a picture with the assignment. I chose to use an old photo of a house I particularly liked because I knew it lived in and abandoned. It was also the only thing I could really see in the mornings waiting for the bus, in between my porch and main street.

Between the back porch and main street