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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 10, Number 1, March 2016

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Gary LeBel
Cumming, Georgia, USA


For Marie-Hortense

Gens cors ab frescha color,
Gran mal me faitz traie!

—Bernart de Ventadorn (fl. 1150-1180)

Beautiful body of youthful hues,
What pain I bear when you refuse!

Oh, Marie-Hortense, will your husband's brush never grace your lips with even one flinch of a smile? Being gruff is not the same as being strong: this I believe you knew in spades, as Zola knew.

Were the sessions as long as history records, the sitting hard, the hours endless, slow as sunlight creeps its way across a parquet floor? Were you happy to look out your window on certain mornings when you wanted to be free of him, to watch him disappear into the hills arrayed with his paint box, easel and canvas? And of little Paul, did your mothering size and stretch its own cotton duck when you watched them at table together, father and son, as young Paul drew a house of his own beneath his papa's sketch, the tenderness that curled the painter's lips as he watched your boy move the pencil?

But the future trades only in chattel; that your presence is forever locked inside a work of art is another matter, along with the doubts, the secrets, the deprivations of country life . . . and no doubt you wondered now and then as you took your chin in hand to view what was finished when he asked you into his workroom . . .and I risk censure here for suggesting that without you, Madame Cézanne, how much of what we've come to treasure would even be? For the last thing a driven husband usually offers a wife is gratitude for the quiet, settled life she bestows so readily while the outer world slips brusquely along its orbit on its own imperfect grooves,

     not the life of a Caravaggio or a Michelangelo, but of a Corot, a Bonnard, a Vermeer steeped in a domesticity where the joys, anxieties and small pleasures of family life are evinced in a bristle half-buried in Prussian blue,

     and so you are there, Marie-Hortense, as when you pass by a window ablaze with the light of Aix bringing vegetables in from the garden in your skirts, little Paul chasing after, half-running, half-stumbling down the echoing hall while cicadas and the sweet fragrance of grasses drift in through the open windows . . .

How many times
have we walked down that road
to the House of the Hanged Man
only to turn our eyes instead
to the splendor of Provence?

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