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January 01st 2009 print

Philippa Martyr

Toulouse-Lautrec

I bought discarded love for fifty cents: An art book in a pile, Toulouse-Lautrec

I bought discarded love for fifty cents:

An art book in a pile, Toulouse-Lautrec 

(Whose work I’ve always liked); the cover art

An ageing bright-eyed whore at des Moulins.

Inside, just by the pencilled price, I read:

“When I saw this, I felt so close to you.”

I close the book; such love forbids voyeurs

But curiosity, as always, wins.

“When you read this, we will be one again.”

I flick through it: Jane Avril’s clownish face,

A barmaid sour with absinthe-coloured light,

Two hefty goodtime girls with crayon flesh,

And flabby photographs of long-dead tarts

(Now as erotic as a mortuary slab)—

“I love you now. I will always love you.”

Handwriting looks male, signature unclear—

Who is this sap? who wrote this painful text?

Poor sod, what havoc did she wreak with you—

Was she Avril dancing, legs akimbo?

Or Messalina? Or la belle Hélène?

Were you the stunted artist’s watching eye

Which scratched desire in paint, but always failed?

Which one of you two threw this love away—

Concealed it in a bag of clothes and shoes

And emptied it into a salvage bin?

I close Toulouse-Lautrec; I shake my head

(And thank God I no longer write in books).