The truth-teller draws from a pocket the laminated slide of mm 85 x 55. You read – it turns pellucid. Through the foramen you see the blade that cuts a lover’s sup and dulled lime drunk alone in place of absinthe’s sleight of bliss. Here life ferments and the contact details for the artist sit alongside his finest projects parcelled on this stretch of linen.
In preparation for my public reading on Wednesday, I have been mulling over marketing. Should I have business cards printed out, so that I could look “professional” and have something to hand over to people? In true mulling continuation, I started imagining poems about poets and artists with business cards. “Should poets have business cards?” began one draft. Then I started imagining business cards that became magic carpets; others became slices of floating simile (a floating host of spring blooms); still others morphed into glass laboratory slides, which then functioned like truth-revealing lenses.
While paging through an art book last week, I was reminded of Edgar Degas’s painting L’Absinthe (1876, oil on canvas, 92 cm × 68 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris). In English the work is sometimes referred to as The Absinthe Drinker or The Glass of Absinthe. In it sits a woman on her own, staring desolately into her own sad distance. In front of her is a glass with green liquid in it: the promised consolation of absinthe. Her slumped posture, the leached colours in the painting and the dulled green of what should be a fun, party drink are all cues that this is not a moment of merriment. It is a moment of doleful truth, captured by the painter.
In the painting she sits next to a bearded man, who also drinks alone. In my memory, I had instead inserted a pair of lovers to the woman’s left (viewer’s right). In creating a fictional world, where the painter’s business card reveals the undercutting truth of things seen, I must have inserted this additional motif of late nineteenth-century Parisian café-life. The lovers, the drinkers, the dancers, the fat-cat patrons and the glamorous Ladies of the Night were all alluring subject matter. They seduced artists such as Degas, Lautrec and Manet with the fantasies they offered. But peering through the bones of this society, these truth-tellers also captured an enduring fermentation of life.
The canvases of Parisian café life are the business cards of these artists past. In my poem, the small piece of card transforms, at the viewer/reader’s glance, into a transparent lens. This lens becomes the truth-revealing aperture. The aperture and canvas and business card all converge into one parcel.
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