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Friday, June 27, 2014

The Courage of Paul Cézanne

Jas de Bouffan, the Pool by Paul Cézanne

It was seeing a Paul Cézanne painting
as a child at the National Gallery
that I awoke in me;

as though I had lain in wait in this depiction of his home estate,
between the sunshine strokes of paint
and the ripples reflected in the pool of the Jas de Bouffan;

as though I had somehow been waiting there
like the seconds that come after
in turn wait for us on an easel of fate;

strokes of a ticking providence,
marking some such conundrum
we fail to understand in this mortal run,

which would take me from child to man -- questioning how children
are told to colour in their adulthood
by following the lines as carefully as they can;

scolded and moulded; warned off being bold;
that there are only certain times in this museum
we should laugh; and so many things we shouldn't touch,

but there is no defence of barriers
against the insistent child, who nestled
in the courage of innocence breathes life
once more into an old Cézanne;

which waits hanging on its wall, like love once subdued,
now breaking out to let you know you've been looking
without ever seeing the hand
that draws you in, and that dreams can learn
to listen without ever hearing a thing;

and that there is the courage of creativity itself
locked away in us that speaks to our children
the unspoken, which kept hidden
can often stop us from living;

          for when we hide
our own creativity, identity is simply
a shadow we trail,

          rather than a shadow of us
where a picture, or a word
may own us with one look;
as though looking back on us
in hindsight,

          and which we use
like signs on a map guiding us on where to go; holding us
by a new gravity to the charade of one
that held us once, it seems, so long ago;


and I remember Guernica as a boy;
how frightened I had been
of that huge imposing tableau
painted by the merciless hand of Pablo Picasso;

how you are crushed first by its size,
then by the story it brings to life before your very eyes;
to awake in you the truth
that places art in our lives;

of a man who drew how death had come
to a Basque village, in the country he had left
never to return; how death had flown in planes
owned by the German and Italian, dark vultures across Spain;

a tale of civil war, and the tragedies of suffering;
how we always forget what needs the most reminding;
of the pain we can so easily inflict
upon the innocent; of the deficit of logic

that fails to predict what harm will come,
unless we have such symbols drawn
to embody what we have lost or let die
throughout the centuries from cowardice;

for it's the artists, the peaceful ones, the children
who are always strangled first
by the vice of war, when ironically
it's with the courage of such people
that any war is truly won;

and it was there; that day at the museum I found
a wild loss of understanding for the human,
(how frightened I had been of this mortal sum)
when I saw the beauty of Cézanne
as a child, like a child for the first time,
(the sleeper teased awake and made aware)

          I had felt unreal; the painting had made me disappear
or, perhaps, transformed me;
for out from the dark, in the light things change;
and I had wanted to touch it,
to let it know it had touched me;

          and from back then, to now wonder
how the magic of mind, hand and eye
could defy the loss of all three; and even the seconds --
who in their ticking soliloquy

          fail to note such immortality --
had been silenced by Cézanne's outstretched hand,
which unlike mine, had managed to reach across the barrier
to the adult in myself I was yet to be;
that would come back to say -- it was here
that I dreamt of all I could be


how beauty can override the death we see;
and further up on the step
of the years give you the strength to return;

and here I was back again,
a boy made man
by the grace of the seconds and this museum;

an adult made and unmade in such lessons
who sadly knew better now
than to reach out and touch what had once touched him;

a once fresh mind now filled with the aged
thoughts of others who would say --
Cézanne couldn't paint; he couldn't wait;

he didn't have the talent
to complete his pictures,
they hold no weight;

but I say he had the courage
to lay them bare, for can any of us
fare better than a Cézanne
without the courage to stamp on shadows?

or the complexity of life, when it shows you
that we are not simply a spectrum of genres
to be read from left to right, but a stirred cauldron of all colours,
where some of Cézanne's paintings were as dark
as Picasso's were filled with blinding light,

(neither simply as a figure of painted speech
nor symbolically, but as honestly as any Cézanne)
and I found the adult in myself
wondering if that little boy's hand,
in those seconds I used to be, would ever

          have the courage to touch the colours now painted over me;
to awake the vibrancy of things dulled by time,
like the fading heat of first love, or first hate
that would once instinctively spin in the chest,

          or the deepest state of newborn rest
that no consciousness can ever know -
or the first bloom of spring

          that lasts but a morning, until you find yourself staring
at a painting that is a mirror reminding you,
you are no longer the child you had been before;
your innocence murdered in some war.

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