The pain passes,
——but the beauty remains.
Wandering the Musée de l’Orangerie with my sister,
we find a bouquet of roses painted in 1878 by Auguste Renoir,
voluptuous white roses placed in a red velvet chair.
My sister says Renoir’s last word was “flowers”
and that toward the end of his life he said of painting,
“I think I am beginning to understand something about it.”
His quest for beauty was relentless, tireless,
though when painting flowers, she says
his mind was always calm, restful, and full of good cheer.
I imagine his final year—the brushes lashed to his wrists,
the wheelchair and the makeshift sedan with bamboo poles
on which he was lifted and carried through the Louvre
so he could see the hallowed galleries one last time.
Bouquet dans une Loge—so beautiful, I rub my eyes.
Sitting in the sun on the steps of the Opera,
my sister holds out her cell phone to show me a Degas—
the light gracing a girl, a ballerina in a yellow tutu.
She says the ballet originated with men in the royal courts,
courtiers who executed deep, elegant bows to the king,
and that young women like Degas’ little girls
(who always remind me of my golden-haired daughter)
did not perform until the time of the revolution
when the ballet at last became a revelation
of what the body is born and made for—
a dance that moves to the music of time.
“Which,” my sister says, leaning back on the Opera’s
warm stone steps to get the sun on her face,
“is the golden light—the yellow light in the Degas painting.”
The day is filled with light, so like two pilgrims
we walk to the Seine and linger on Wish Bridge,
where ten thousand gold and silver locks
inscribed with names and fastened to the grillwork
flash and gleam, symbols of undying love;
below, the emerald water is swiftly flowing.
For a moment in time on the Pont des Arts,
the two of us lean against the black rail,
poised between heaven and earth.
Locks and wishes. Perhaps the river
makes my sister think about her son?
I find myself pondering locks that have been broken,
sweethearts separated by divorce and death,
the faded memories. Wishes and locks.
Outside the Church of Saint Eustache,
the L’écoute sculpture—the giant head
with the hand cupped to its ear, listening—
hears our footsteps and knows we’re coming,
but because its eyes are closed it doesn’t see us
when we take its portrait with our cameras.
The church’s massive wooden doors swing open
and in a dark niche, a bright triptych by Keith Haring
proclaims the Lord’s birth, life, and death,
the story etched into a panel of gold.
Compared to its impressive Baroque neighbor,
Peter Paul Rubens’s The Pilgrims at Emmaus,
the Haring is so simply drawn it seems, my sister says,
created by the hand of a child, innocent and full of faith.
In Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis my sister talks about her son,
the way his golden hair would fall straight down
when he hung upside down in his tire swing,
a silly smile crinkling his eyes. She relives
the day her five-year-old drowned in the river,
the river behind her house that still flows each day,
as timeless as the Seine. Each day in this church,
we find ourselves drawn to the blue prayer candles
lit by those who came before us and still flickering.
Our fingertips touch the holy water in the pilgrim’s shell.
My sister says pain and grief are omnipresent,
yet somehow love and loss have been spun into gold.
Love and loss is something my sister knows about,
the way Renoir knew a little something about beauty.
Open-eyed in the dark on the sleep-sofa, I consider
knocking on the bedroom door and waking my sister
to ask if she thinks we’ll see Renoir’s roses in heaven—
a silly question that worries me and keeps me awake.
Next morning I’m still drowsing when her key rattles
the antique lock, opens the door, and the early chill
lingering on her coat is carried into the apartment.
The sweet aroma of fresh baguettes from Miss Manon’s
stirs my imagination and the burbling coffeemaker
opens my eyes and calls me to new adventures.
On the kitchen table a tin pot of roses from the Bastille,
the powder on the petals calm and full of good cheer
and for whose sweet smell, my sister says, quoting Shakespeare,
the air shall be perfumed—
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.