His voice nearly gone
_________________(add enough water and pigment thins)
she’s listening to the plainsong
of doves in the garden,
______________________their__ you__ you __you
calling her slowly back to herself
until she’s jarred by laughter coming from
______________________________who is it
below her window facing the avenue du Général Baron Robert?
Footsteps. Three knocks at the heavy front door—
is the quiet she’s come to Provence for?
the village belfry wakes her,
_____________________bell that rings the hour
twice, so it’s twelve AM
________________twelve AM again.
When finally she falls back to sleep she’s young—
the beauty she was in the thirties.
So how can she be in Ménerbes rifling through her closet?
These—how can they be her clothes?
This wardrobe of an old woman
who’d cover her white with a wig.
And now, aware she’s wearing nothing,
she frantically parts one dress from the next
until, suddenly, they open onto a scene, a play going on.
Someone shouts at her from the wings to
______________________Get off the stage
and she’s in a madhouse fleeing hands
nearly upon her.
Her pearls, where has she left them?
And the phone won’t it stop ringing?
and for moments,
she’s just a figure in Picasso’s paintings.
_____________How can a woman keep from disappearing?
In her apartment in Paris at 6 rue de Savoie
she placed mirrors in every room.
On walls, mantelpiece, inside walk-in closets.
Seeking herself in each—
especially the convex looking glass
where her face loomed,
filling the frame.
29 rue d’Astorg.
Her first studio.
___________Also a photograph by Dora Maar, surréaliste.
What she’d been
before Picasso convinced her to give up
her camera for a brush.
In the center, an objet trouvé
_____________________found trashed, a doll
neither child nor woman quite.
Under a loose-fitting dress,
the beginning of a breast.
Elsewhere, vestiges of baby fat: round knees, chubby hands.
Odd enough, but what would she have if she broke the head off?
famous for her face, darling of the Surrealists,
Man Ray, Paul Éluard, Breton,
whose neck is a chicken bone
She gives the headless one
a single eye and, for a mouth, a blunt line
that resembles a beak where the neck ends.
Then pulling a sleeve down on one side
to expose a shoulder,
she poses the creature before a picture of the orangery at Versailles,
so its long hall comes to resemble a birth canal.
___________________________________Oh, what she’s mothered!
She who will never have a child of her own.
And the route she took
to l’Hôpital Sainte-Anne?
__________________Quickly before the past is erased!
Before doctors attach electrodes to her temples.
Before she convulses, loses consciousness—
record all the sun-filled streets and darkrooms
where she learned the photographer’s art,
the Seine at dusk, lovers
before Picasso, rations, curfews, occupation,
the lance of his affection for Marie-Thérèse, Françoise
and la femme qui pleure,
__________________that woman he took her for—
though how could she be sure
now that everything had the blank look
of starched linen. And in her head, she kept repeating
the final steps in printing—
as if she were praying.
________________Turn to God,
her doctor advised—for you it’s that
or the straitjacket.
Looked at after,
a photomontage Dora created
ten years before seems to foretell
the woman she’d become at Sainte-Anne’s.
In another setting, her subject could be recuperating—a patient
resting on her back, eyes closed, head propped up with a pillow.
But here in a long vaulted hall
she’s bedded down on a stone floor.
Someone should waken her.
She’s not dreaming of the tide coming in.
The tide’s coming in.
Sur le tard.
But not too late.
_______________What she’s waited for.
Not the end of day or gloaming.
More like late afternoon.
All those hair-raising, harebrained, hairpin turns
she takes alone on her motorbike in the mountains,
strands of gray loosened by the dry
Provençal wind escaping her scarf.
Faster, faster—olive grove, orchard, vineyard,
the black cicada that brings luck in the summer—
for her watercolors.
Meditation, she came to believe,
was like a shutter (camera, window)
opened and left open
until, with her eyes closed,
she could see Mont Ventoux.
Sky and Mountain. Landscape and Sky. Large White Sky.
She’d name her paintings of what she saw,
though like the monks at vespers in the abbey
singing of les cieux et les cieux des cieux
she’d learned language was important only in so far
as it became transparent—
a lens to see through.
It was said she became more and more reclusive
because she was no longer beautiful.
That she was afraid to show her ruined face.
But she didn’t live in that face anymore
or anyone else’s story—
_____________________no longer Picasso’s
bird-woman, sphinx, harpy,
Dora and the Minotaur.
But to be fair, it needn’t have been Picasso,
she realized years later.
It could have been another man
How far away the dramas of other people
seemed to her as she looked out from her ridge
to the valley below,
_______________vineyard and orchard blurring,
the steep path she’d taken down to the chapel of Notre Dame des Grâces
obscured by a morning’s mist.
It wasn’t madness, fear, or sadness that confined her.
Inside, tubes of pigment covered her studio tables:
Numbers 46, 74, 16, 13.
The jaune soufre, vert Romain clair,
rouge de Chine, and bleu outremer
that others would find when they turned a key in her lock
and, in the light invading Dora Maar’s rooms,
discovered canvases strung from the walls of her studio,
a cross made of wooden stretchers, photos she’d returned to,
and a notebook of poems.
____________________What no one would find, she’d written,
was pale yellow—
the tint for her of what was interior.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.