HENRI MATISSE AT VENCE
A second life
That’s how it felt
in his seventy-eighth year, just when all seemed fused
to destruction – the disease, the war,
blood red sullying the Côte d’Azur –
to come here to these swallow-haunted hills
and find his destiny:
a huddle of nuns taking Eucharist in a garage,
starved of light, like early believers
crouched in catacombs.
Was there ever a plainer, greater question?
What could an old man in an armchair do
but pick up his brush and conjure from thin air
tall windows to draw in the honeyed sun?
In the cemetery at springtime,
the sunlight glances off a bird’s wings
and old stone.
The headstone has weathered
barely the faintest rune to say who – he or she –
tenants this grave.
Yet this is where the hyacinths flourish,
their flowers a yearly memorial to the otherwise unremembered:
an abstract profusion,
a curling hallucination,
mauve embracing green
MARCH 2021 Anthony Gardner MONK