BONNARD’S WIFE’S ASHES
Stooped shoulders, small breasts. The womanly
head bent, Marthe, the model
he made wife in 1925,
She was upset someone might whisper, “She’s one
of those women one doesn’t
marry.” Even here,
her meager shoulders seem to carry
lead. The shadow of her head
blackens the tub.
She invented a life, assumed a name,
de Meligny, a demimondaine,
daughter of a carpenter,
said her family was dead. She took baths
obsessively. Marthe walked
like a bird on tiptoe,
the weightless walk that comes from wings. Raspy
voiced, strict diets, raw meat, saw
no one but her husband.
The doctors couldn’t figure what ailed her.
Though in 384 paintings, she was young, full
fleshed. And when she died at 72,
he locked the door to her room,
finished the last tub painting: four years
ending their long estrangement.
No wonder all the baths; she needed
to feel weightless, as
he drowned her in light.
—from Rattle #30, Winter 2008