Tony Beyer

Three from France

The wound

one reason among others
David’s Marat is no longer
kept in France
is the tight-lipped
slightly bleeding incision

below the collar bone
of the bare torso
like nothing so much
as a puncture transposed
from a Renaissance Pietà

iconography of a
not quite defunct religion
of the people
too powerful to be
acknowledged or denied

The Gleaners

they’re big women
to be stooping so low
filling piecemeal
the sacks at their hips

and Millet (his
century’s Michelangelo)
knew how much those postures
repeated must hurt

the afterthought lives
of ordinary people
just when their world
was ending for all time


in Fantin-Latour’s
portrait of his daughter
all in black

the eye is held
by the jade stone set
in the gold ring

on the ring finger
of the casual pyramid
of her right hand

poised halfway down the page
of the volume she will be reading
forever now

Plein air

craquelure over the surface of Gustave Courbet’s
La Plage de Trouville à marée bas
suggests not only the earth and sea
but the sky too is breaking up under the weight
of human habitation

Barbizon by association
splendid by any gauge
the almost empy landscape
dwarfs a man with a casting rod
and his dog

an almost empty picture too
water and sand and clouds
none of which may have been
the colour they apparently are
either then or now

L’origine du monde and the Commune
were in the future for Gustave
all that energetic shock
while empires were swollen and shrunk

the painting resides for now
in a city that was a fishing village at best
at the time the last brushstroke was applied
remote from everything except itself
before capital ate up the world


we grew up on a
hard scrabble farm

at least half the
tiles were missing

Feather cloak

a prop in the artist’s
wooden studio

beside the prehistoric
rabbit skull

and the knot
of rusted fence wire

pronounced as a consonant
in a forgotten language

Embryonic sonnets

Yellow Christ

while three women in folk costume
surround the shrine in the foreground

a man in a beret follows two women
from his family over the stone wall

on their way home from church
their backs to the ecstatic moment

and the artist who has chosen to depict it
as he will in later life depict

the ripe fruit of brown bodies in warm air
seemingly out of the reach of Christendom

with its jaundiced redemptor
hung up for another Sunday

in order to inoculate the faithful
even those who’ve made their escape

Paul Cézanne screen saver

the mountainous white table napkin
dropped among the fruit

would challenge an ice-axe and piton expert
to negotiate its crevasses and creases

each one a molten sun the oranges
around its base emit more light than heat

so nothing rots or melts within
this mathematical territory of the mind

each element arranged by hand
then rearranged by sight

for the patient brush to recollect
over distances that don’t exist

ascents and descents innumerable
pitfalls we can never see


the religions which disdain
life on earth as a plaything

trivial and insignificant
rely on the default that no one

who’s moved on into the afterworld
has authentically returned

with evidence one way or the other
so treating this planet with respect

as if it’s the only one we’ll know
makes sense for all species

not least the most God-obsessed
and therefore perhaps most destructive

a minor tailless branch of the primates
too feeble to succeed without its heavy brain

Sound advice

I read that to cheer yourself up
you should binge-watch all your

favourite comedy movies
and laugh till it hurts

not such a bad idea and I’d
start with Palookaville

which according to IMDB
is loosely based on three

stories by Italo Calvino
plus a title originally mumbled

by Brando in On the Waterfront
hard to get more hip than that

with intertextuality
and such fun


the troubling perspective
of a Hockney window

seems to mean more than it describes
as if Manet’s Balcony

could be viewed from the inside
with the backs of people

seated or standing invisible
almost at the curious juncture

or imperceptible divide between
the ninteenth and twentieth centuries

begun intellectually in French
painting around 1890 (Cézanne

Seurat) and elaborated
uninterrupted until August 1914


the wreckage of a great name
on his death bed still oozes poems

his acolytes dab up with tissues
to be hastened into print

hand-set and hand-sewn
editions limited to one

for his eyes only while
the coffers of the house are rifled

and the widow-elect selects her next
from among the hangers-on

ah cynicism you’re such a dead-end
he was a boy once catching

dragonflies and metaphors
in a net as fine as spider gauze

New Zealander Tony Beyer’s most recent publication is Friday Prayers (Cold Hub Press, 2019).
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