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Sample Poems by Robert E. Wood

The Execution of Maximilian
Edouard Manet 1868-69

Save for the muskets, they could be a military band,
those jaunty executioners who have turned their backs to us.
A corporal prepares the coup de grace.

So close to Emperor and generals is the firing squad,
that Mejia, who will be the first to fall,
seems blanketed in smoke. Above the wall

a congregation of dark faces watches
pale Maximilian in halo sombrero
waiting for the end. Europe is getting smaller.

The Balcony
Edouard Manet 1869

It could have been the perfect scene,
that balcony with green shutters,

the patient dog who hasn't nudged his toy
over the edge, Berthe drawing our gaze

in a white dress all grace and lace. And yet-
an absence of admirers, a folded fan,

the awkward poses of the others-
she is alone, staring without anticipation.

In two years the Kaiser will be in Versailles,
Prussians besieging Paris, rat butchers in the streets.

Portrait de Berthe Morisot etendue
Edouard Manet 1873

The horizontal canvas is the domain
of mistresses, landscapes of desire en rose.

For Berthe Morisot the idiom is darkness,
her face framed in black hair and shadow.

A further darkness we suppose a dress,
but eyes that should invite a fall become

windows on sunlit gardens, butterflies,
women reading, and children among roses.

Photo of Berthe Morisot

The photo tells us it is not a lie,
her bleak and haunted beauty
in the paintings by Manet.

And yet what we presume
to be a fashionable dress-
tight-waisted, smooth around

the hips, inevitably black-
dispels her mystery. Instead
of femmes fatales, we think of

television Westerns, friendly
women we called dance hall girls
when everything was black and white.


Beauty is imperfection
for Toulouse-Lautrec.

No god of wind
blue in the face

inspires Graces
who are only lovely lines.

Instead a face green-tinted
at the edge of things

as if intruding on a photograph,
a shock of hair still blazing red.

And the women waiting
in the Salon of the Rue des Moulins

attend no rhapsody beyond desire,
but rise by night to dance and sleep

as the white basilica
emerges in the dawn.