Madame Forain Contemplates Her Portrait
Patricia L. Hamilton

Madame Forain Contemplates Her Portrait

I met my husband's glittering eyes with the fond gaze
of a fellow artist, a painter who understands
the rapture of rendering a silk glove, rumpled
slightly below the elbow, of defining
the clean line of a black velvet hat's brim
against wallpaper the green of tarnished copper.
But he has caught me glancing past his shoulder,
foal-brown eyes cast toward some distraction—
Louise at the door offering a cup of café au lait?
Our sweet Gigi chasing her fluffy tail?
The set of my lips suggests a smile will appear
in another moment. How magnificently
he has captured the arch of my dark eyebrows
under chestnut curls—mes arcs de triomphe,
he teases, at snaring a confirmed bachelor.
A chronicler of the demimonde, the critics call him,
and it's true: he and Degas so often hanging about
backstage at the opera house, Edgar entranced
by the lithe dancers, my Jean-Louis sketching
tawdry flirtations, dandies' leers, the seduction
of sullied innocence. Over the years
he has painted the flesh of dozens of women—
ivory-skinned actresses, alabaster bathers, whores—
so this shawl is a little joke entre nous: a swath
of cream and gold around my shoulders, pinned
securely at my waist, muffling my bodice to my chin.
The newlywed young matron, perfectly chaste.
But oh! that black hat, with the froth of black lace!
Next spring we will make our way to Venice
to luxuriate in the bronze light before settling
for the summer in some wayside village,
kindred spirits painting en plein air,
feasting on Prosecco and wild strawberries,
drowsing to the drone of a thousand bees.

Patricia L. Hamilton

is a professor of English at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Her first volume of poetry, The Distance to Nightfall, was published in 2014 by Main Street Rag Press. Her most recent work has appeared in Broad River Review, Third Wednesday, Red River Review, and Plainsongs. She won the 2015 Rash Award for Poetry and has been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize.