The painter knew the child was only a picture.
he herad in the tattoo of the pulse in her veins
the kettledums of kings waiting to be born again.
He knew the false note struck among them was not
the cough that screens the byblow or the mule:
hers were not heraldic stains but taints occult
to the physuician’s drooping eye. But to the painter,
native of his own and other’s skins,
nothing is secret: he was the gristled flesh,
the corrupt prayers, the bitter lusts
that kept the ten-year-old girl alive.
The sliver of an old and varnished stock
was mouldering before his eyes, the bemused passion
of dwarves and clowns, the scourge of confessors.
In the child squeezed dry of her juices,
he saw a portrait of her country.
The drapery fluttered when he set brush to it,
the oriels glowed with martyrs, imperious chaperones
of the spirit, but the palace was empty.
On every side, doors opened on doors opened on doors
and at one end of the hall, the drapes
parted to disclose a satinwood annexe
where silver gazelles leaped from the tapestries
to the mirrors, the mirrors tossing them to the gaze
of feline eyes behind a veil.
And the painter with his palette played
the unchaste abbot of this cloister.
The duennas filled the room with the froufrou
of their skirts, turned, caught their own glance
in the painting. He shrank from their florid moans
of praise. The jaw of the king, her slow-wit father,
sagged at the miracle. He croaked:
“Marvellous Velaquez” What nuances you’ve captured!
How real we seem! Bowing, the painter backed out
of the life he had framed.
His years went by, a wanton dance of cares and hopes,
a light on the subject: urbane princes, future popes
sat for him. Behind the velvet, a flight of stairs
endend in a vortex. Clear-eyed, he stepped into the dark.
The artist needs more youth than gods will grant
to carnal man’s agilities of love and work:
he aged swiftly, till the burnished studio
deepened to the colour of nothing, and he was blind.
Vanishing acts. Ranjit Hoskoté.