Some learned the palette is the devil's platter,
the brush a crucifix: by law, no icons
no graven images "made unto thee."
Yet Soutine dries creeds in the Paris sun,
his strokes prayers for pardon. Others are freer.
A mystery. I find no common style,
no ism, as in penstand, nest for thought.
Marc Chagall's villages, Soutine's dead turkeys,
Sonia Delauney's rings, make an odd stew.
In Kisling's painting, "Kiki" of Montparnasse
lies on flowered silk. Nearby, a window opens
on more windows. Air, light. Still I say
could Michelangelo have carved "La Pieta"
without belief, his trust only in stone?
Even Rouault, godless, hunted by God,
painted Christ's head slashed with lines. How faith crushes
and builds. But not them. Torn up from dry soil,
replanted, pruned back, they blossom again
like horse chestnuts under a new god.
Their only faith, if one can call it that,
lurks in this day's sunlit buildings, leaves
that still sparkle with raindrops, and brushstrokes
that catch the glimmer. Some fled pogroms.
But take Modigliani, from Livorno,
whose women, swans, gaze with clouded pupils.
The painter's stare. Doorlocks pried open,
they blink under puff-clouded skies,
talk at Le Dome until the paint runs free,
then, each to his easel, gather beliefs
like lilies that die as the canvas blooms.