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Royal Festival Hall (Level 5), Southbank Centre, LondonOpen Tuesday - Sunday from 11am to 8pm
Image by Alexander Kell, subject of the poem
She clicks. The projector beams
The Cotton Exchange in New Orleans, 1873
across her dining room wall.
She checks her notes, winces at the simile:
Degas pulls our gaze to the gent
keeping book in the back room,
the windows hang like guillotines.
She's revamping an Impressionism lecture
that's older than most of her students.
After thirty years, her projector's a house pet,
squatting at the end of its leash. She clicks,
it draws a blank. A slide is missing. She stares at
The Spot-lit Square of Uneven Wallpaper, 1973.
She remembers choosing the pattern
from a stack of remaindered stock:
her first attempt at DIY. The sheets overlap;
rose stems splint where they ought to meet.
An aesthete would cringe but, as her cow-licked
fringe stands to attest, she is not so afflicted.
Her thumb is attuned to the undergraduate
attention span. She clicks again. It's Manet's
maid at the overstocked bar,
for whom she still gathers sympathy.
Baring her wrists, saddened and bored
despite the spectacle. A gentlemen
addresses her bib of pale skin
for a flute of champagne and a clementine.
She plucks a satsuma from the still-life
on her table, turbans her thumb, removes
the peel slowly: a spiral, an abstract.
She feels nothing. It's dark outside.
The height of Parisian entertainment
is cut from the frame: the trapeze artist's
ankles are all that remain.
She's been to see this painting a dozen
times – more – and watched her students
hustle to get a good look as though fighting
for drinks at the Union Bar. The girl's glazed
expression, kept behind security glass.
The barmaid has no reflection; a ghost
amid the vanity, defined by her work and yet lost
to it. The chandeliers hang like rain clouds.
Because everyone is
Because America does not need me
Because America has not yet Earned My Love
Because I'm fond of the decorative arts
Because I love faces
Because Hélion Before
is better after After
Because nobody is
Because I'm also as it were
an Abstract Expressionist
Because dribble's better than drivel
but still dreadfully drab
made the first moon landing
Because beach buggies
are just dinky
of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz