This recent poem “Hortense” is from a sequence Susan McCaslin started on Paul Cézanne when she was in France. This poem is about his wife.
“Every Hortense is startling, or disquieting, in her way.”
Alex Danchev, from Cézanne: A Life
The nineteen-year-old who posed
for Cézanne in Paris, still
farmer’s daughter, main squeeze
then mother to Paul Jr.
To his friends, “La Boule”
dumpling, yet she seems trim
enough in his paintings
Affectionate sobriquet or jab?
To his family, clandestine lover
unwelcome at the family estate Jas des Bouffan
She was profligate
adored the casinos
belittled his art
lingered with friends at news of his death
then bundled off his paintings for quick sale
Yet what of the hours when
she sat immobile
as he ranged the enigma of her upper lip?
The paintings whisper
how he studied her many faces
just as he tracked the clefts of his sacred
Monte Sainte Victoire
through dashes and daubs of paint
What remains of such
intimacies and distances?
a sleek chignon
the sheen of a striped skirt
the delicacy of folded hands
in a red armchair
– Susan McCaslin