Requiem for a Requiem
— Paula Modersohn-Becker, 1876-1907
Shaking shame from her brush, she presses
it to canvas. Before her, women could not
paint women naked. Before her, women
could not gaze into the mirror of their flesh.
Still lines erasing taboo: spite-green goblet,
halved fruit. The women staring, bare. Or
nursing unclothed, eyes on the artist’s eyes.
Without shame: a style.
She haunts her friend, Rilke, from beyond
the grave she predicted for herself, days past
giving birth. For years: refused that death
warrant. Near the art colony, she reinvents
her solitude. Glass held up to query an angle,
bootlegged light in a doorway. Bootlegged:
a daughter’s open eyes. Clichés of haunt: Paris
ateliers, Cézanne’s oranges, fractured Picasso
nudes. Knowing what they knew. Saw how
style derives from itself: how a body idealized
by desire floats in trees, vanishes in clouds. Never to laugh, pick up a kid, bleed.
up a kid, bleeds. Leaving Rilke’s portrait un-
done. Drifting now into his “Requiem,”
writ for her: “friend,” this shadow body. He
beckons now into candlelight. She listens
to her own breath, dying. So like each
gasp at the start. Says: Did you know Death cheers at each conception?
as Love looks to her
in the mirror: sweet murder. Chance-
implacable is the enthroned soul, but she rises on
each brushstroke. Deathless, her way
to unveil a woman’s body. But “Schande!” she cries,
her dying word, holding her newborn daughter to her
breast. Shame! Soul, come claim the body.
Copyright © 2018 by Carol Muske-Dukes. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.