“Klimt at the Musee Maillol” by Janalynn Bliss

Janalynn Bliss


She stood before a sketch, tracing
with a curved finger the shapes
of simple pencil strokes lightly
onto the velvet skin of her inner arm.
The slow swirl of the crowd stirred
the air in the hushed space,
the movement of her long straight hair
raising shivers on her skin
as it caressed her bare shoulders.

She never saw him, a few paces back,
rendering into lines on the smooth white
paper of his sketchpad, the flutter
of her diaphanous dress
against her arched back and full hips.

Visitors to the exhibit who saw them
glanced furtively at each other.
Couples grasped at the fingers
of their partners while avoiding
direct eye contact. Old women
fanned themselves with brochures
and laughed quietly.

At closing, the crowd spilled
into the narrow street,
visible dissipation of energy;
people shot from the opening,
ejaculated onto the heated cobbles
of a sweltering Paris evening.

Couples cuddled
on metro platforms, embraced
in the middle of sidewalks, caressed
on bridges over the Seine, pressed each other
against tall iron fences in residential neighborhoods.

If she’d had a butterfly net,
she could have scooped up extra kisses.
They skittered everywhere, crisp sycamore
leaves in an unseasonably warm wind.

She returned to her tiny room.
Up a crooked staircase,
in the corner of the fourth floor
of a tired Montmartre walk-up,
her dress fell around her feet.
She spread the shuttered doors
to the balcony, propped a mirror
against the railing, and sketched
what she saw in the falling light,
knowing that red lines
were being pressed into her
white flesh by the rigid slats
of the wooden chair, and that
no one would be coming
home to see them.

from Rattle #26, Winter 2006


Janalynn Bliss: “I live and work in Los Angeles, where I once saw a weed growing on the freeway. I like to think that through my writing I, too, am rooting in the collected grime of a million passing lives.”

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