Into the Light: Henri Matisse, by Joan E Bauer

      Having pawned his watch & overcoat,
      he stands in a shabby corduroy suit
      painting a muted-grey seascape—
      while his wife runs a hat shop.

      He has no money.
      He buys Cezanne’s Three Bathers.


      He had been a dreamy child,
      a clerk in a lawyer’s office.

      From the moment I held the box of colors
      in my hand, I knew this was my life


      Under the Corsican sun, he is drawn to
      the purity of light & color the way

      the sun glitters on the leaves.


      The humiliating return to Bohain
      to grey skies & squelchy rotting beets
      to gaunt men looking for work
      their stringy children

      to a father who blustered—
      You are an imbecile.


      I think: how we all hang back, when we are afraid
      as I look at his paintings,
      as they move toward the light—


      toward the open window
      the burning foothills
      a blaze of orange & ochre.

      He gives himself to the figs & date palms,
      pomegranates & oranges,
      the glittering choppy sea, scudding clouds,
      the ferocious & clamorous sun.


      The butcher & baker stand
      with hands outstretched—

      he destroys the still lifes
      his wife & daughter
      have to scrape the paint from the canvas

      as there is no money for—


      A leap into another world—
      The colors become sticks of dynamite.
      Nights without sleep

          he breaks with everything.

      He admits it: he is afraid
      that the blazing colors
      will make him blind

          will make him mad—

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Brandon Whitehead