Boston, Massachusetts

September 2006

Five Poems

Unfinished Painting, 7 April 1938
Maurice's Birth      26 December 1883
Self-Portrait 1927

Poet's Bio



Unfinished Painting, 7 April 1938

            cadmium splashes a peony petal
            a soft fevered cheek
            sweet the scent of flower
            pungent the scent of linseed and paint

Ah the strokes fly
            the brush steers my hand

I float on fumes       ox and sable bridge
my body to canvas      in color   
in color     yellows      greens      merge and jitter
I reach out
in all the colors
                       seen in my life
pain bursts
            alizarin      raw umber        Prussian blue
bind me      tight          tighter
chained in cinnabar and gold
            I gasp

the easel and I fall
colors deepen      blues violets bleed
into dark

                                                                                           Suzanne Valadon died of a stroke while working on a painting. Valadon was
                                                                                           a successful artist at the turn on the twentieth century.

Maurice’s Birth      26 December 1883

in a house once the public gallows
at the base of Montmartre
dark and cloistered
I lie in a narrow bed
            hours and hours
the midwife alarmed
Madeleine sips wine in the corner
pain and push
push and pain
the midwife wipes a rag across my face
sweat         water
damp and damp
are the howls I hear my own?
all the clocks in Paris have run down
the sun leaks pale days past solstice
cold leaks from a trembling window
through the thin walls
lost in sleep three days
               coma dreams
black and white winter   
abrupt bursts
of color
somewhere in the distance a child cries
in  the drift of dream
in the spin of nightmare
I wake to tug on breast
warm flow 
sucking me back to life

                                                                                           Artist Maurice Utrillo was born to artist Suzanne Valadon on this day.



The carrots were heavy pinned to my bodice
I could nibble when hungry
unlike flowers merely pretty.

What did I care what was said behind
hands           on the streets
in the cafes.

The goat I kept in my studio
had a purpose
bad drawings chewed and swallowed
lines gone wrong      gone wild    gone astray
the goat ate without complaint.

Some days all I did dinner for the  goat
if a model didn’t like the scent
she didn’t come back unless hungry.
I remember hungry
standing just so   turn this way   bend down
adjust a strap     hours without motion
as though time ticked in the swish
of brush on palette on canvas


Self-Portrait 1927

An ooze of red
          O alizarin   O cadmium
                                    O rose and currant
O the blood of Maurice’s tortured God
O despair flush my skin
tubes squeezed to the marrow.

I am not the fairest
she has gone     in old news
in leaf mold.

I paint now       
despondent heavy lidded eyes
the arch of  brows     still auburn hair
A bowl of apples    on the table
that props the mirror.    
Glass reversed interpretations of me
slowly materializes on the canvas

For this I wear a dress of many colors
looped chains, dots, a chevron flight
      bands of design.

I stare into eyes    returned
lost again      but this is what I do.

                                                                                           Suzanne Valadon 1865-1938, painted self-portraits all her life.



            gazes into a wine-hazed distance
she can not see,
wizened wrinkled    
a toothless crone       poses
on a stool      the dog in obeisance
paw on Madeleine’s lap stoically holds the stance.
Rising over all, Maurice, a handsome man
empty of thought or reason.
Maman and grandson dressed in dark.
Behind the outcropping of faces, flowers crawl the wall

Grandmother and Grandson the last painting of Madeleine
age 79     her mind taken in superstitious wandering.
Face turned away
from love shredded by madness
                        they suffer each other in ache
captured by daughter and mother
a trinity tied in paint
within the walls of 12 rue Cortot.

Light seeping through low clouds
infuses the studio under glass-sloped roof

Madeleine shrinks into death
Paris light covers her
coffin, laid down in Saint-Ouen
20 June 1915

                                                                                           The artist is Suzanne Valadon 1865-1938, mother of Maurice Utrillo V.


Eve Rifkah is editor of the literary journal Diner and co-founder of Poetry Oasis, Inc. Poems have or will appear in Bellevue Literary Review, The MacGuffin, 5 AM, Parthenon West,,, Chaffin Journal, Porcupine Press, The Worcester Review, California Quarterly,  ReDactions, Jabberwock Review, Southern New Hampshire Literary Journal and translated into Braille. Her chapbook “At the Leprosarium” won the 2003 Revelever chapbook contest. A professor of English at Worcester State College, she received her MFA in Writing from Vermont College and lives with her husband, poet Michael Milligan.