Still Life with Curtain and Flowered Jug
Paul Cezanne, c. 1898-99
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg
Painted in France, the fruits now rest
on a wall in Russia, no longer succulent
as when posing under the painter’s hand,
set with care on a wooden table
draped with a white tablecloth,
globes of green and red shining yellow
in the artificial light.
Plucked from a market in Paris,
they nudge each other on the canvas,
touching like the shoulders of museum-goers
staring at their luxurious community
of rotund joy, bowlfuls of delight.
Behind ceramic dishes, peach-filled
and radiant, a flowered water pitcher,
guarding all, but empty of purpose,
marks with scalloped edges the pretty line
where bright meets dark.
Beyond the furred juices of apricots
and the rumpled comforts of pale cloth,
a black curtain hangs, leaf-patterned
in dull and dying green, one corner
pulled back to reveal a flat, unutterable void.
Here’s the mystery of whatever lies beyond
the soft deliciousness of summer sweets:
the cold elegance of a pitcher, poppy-painted,
at the diagonal edge of empty. How easily
the unbleached linens fall to the foreground,
how pure and dire is the ebony backdrop
of an ordinary sunlit breakfast backing into
The poet uses the artwork to reveal the emptiness of life. Notice how the vibrant words with colors and pleasant sounds depict the beauty of the original scene and the gradual change of tone once the painting is hanging in the museum standing still. Notice the contrast between “the soft deliciousness of summer sweets” and “the cold elegance of a pitcher.”
Donna Pucciani, a Chicago-based writer, has published poetry worldwide in Shi Chao Poetry, Poetry Salzburg, ParisLitUp, Mediterranean Poetry, Meniscus, Voice and Verse, Gradiva, and other journals. Her seventh and most recent book of poetry is EDGES.