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Jeanne holding a Fan, by Camille Pissarro. 

1863
Minette

 

after Pissarro’s  portrait of his daughter, Jeanne-Rachel, known as ‘Minette’

 

 

She sits, age seven, on the sort of wood chair

beloved of the Impressionists, not yet

ablaze with auction-house liquidity. Two years

from now, she’s dead. You can’t unknow this.

Your eye is compromised. You can’t view

the scene without thinking the pot-bellied

wood-burner in the background is a cloud

gathering on this summer day.

A window, off left, opens on a garden

where if she were well, she could play

in the sunlight. A plaque on the gallery wall

announces the recent future, waiting: TB.

Camille places a fan in her hands, ghostly,

a blank piece of Japonaiserie, ‘en vogue’,

a void on the canvas. Three-quarters turned,

her stocking-legs under tiny knees and a black

school shift. Shy in her condition, she doesn’t

confront – not physically – but see that left eye? Huge

disproportionate, staring out, white pigment

advancing, in accusation, admonition, hurt?

Her father/painter, life-giving and powerless

to protect her. Does he paint with the cool-eyed

stare of art, or the essential agony of family?

The vulnerability he brings to this picture, made

from a desire to perfect, take her suffering, fix

forever an image to canvas. We are all in this,

implicated, an Ashmolean throng, witness

to a beauty so slight and tender, the wooden legs

of the chair will buckle under an impossible weight

any minute, the claw-feet of the wood-burner,

grey, bear down on her, flames warm, consuming.

 

 

© Ken Evans

Picture 10500937, oil on canvas, Camille Pissarro, 1873, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

 

 

Ken Evans’ first pamphlet, The Opposite of Defeat, was published by Eyewear in July 2016. Eyewear included him in their annual Best Irish and English New Poets 2017, due out in April (an anthology is for those who have yet to publish a full collection).  In 2016 he won The Battered Moons Poetry Competition (Judge: Daljit Nagra), and was runner-up in Manchester’s Poets & Players (Judge: Jackie Kay).  His poems have appeared in The Lighthouse Literary Journal; Envoi; The Interpreter’s House; Morphrog9; The High Window; Obsessed with Pipework; The Glasgow Review of Books; The Morning Star, and Ink, Sweat & Tears. He reviews poetry for The Manchester Review.