“Bonnard’s Wife’s Ashes” by Paula Goldman

Paula Goldman


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
         rearranging, decomposing,
                         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

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