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
poses questions

Working-class seamstress
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
dubious, unacknowledged     
unwelcome at the family estate    Jas des Bouffan

then spouse

Anecdotes abound:

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