From the Life

Original Text: 
Jon Stallworthy, Rounding the Horn: Collected Poems (Manchester: Carcanet, 1998): 231-34.
"All this takes place on a hilly island in the Mediterranean," Picasso said. "Like Crete. That's where the minotaurs live, along the coast. They're the rich Seigneurs of the island. They know they're monsters, and they live, like dandies and dilettantes everywhere, the kind of existence that reeks of decadence in houses filled with works of art by the most fashionable painters and sculptors .... A minotaur keeps his women lavishly but he reigns by terror and they're glad to see him killed." ... He turned to another print, a minotaur watching over a sleeping woman. "He's studying her, trying to read her thoughts," he said, "trying to decide whether she loves him because he's a monster." He looked up at me. "Women are odd enough for that, you know." He looked down at the etching again. "It's hard to say whether he wants to wake her or kill her," he said.
      Françoise Gilot and Carlton Lake: Life with Picasso
1I was the gypsy sleeping
2under a desert moon
3white-bellied as the mandolin
4beside me on the dune.
5The wind that stirred my rainbow dress
6was no wind but the breath
7of some beast with my father's eyes
8and the smell of death.
9In the room above the studio
10he freed me from my dress
11and tossing it over a chair
12stood back and said "Yes.
13Incredible how accurately
14I had prefigured your form."
15Afterwards on the bed,
16his touch was warm
17but distant: sculptor's hands
18about their business find
19whether their handiwork
20is ready to be signed.
21Outside the studio,
22after dark one could see
23boys building barricades;
24inside the studio,
25after Liberation
26the Fruits of Victory --
27tinned peaches, hams, one day
28a G.I.'s rum ration
29and a crate of grenades
30inscribed "To Picasso
31from Hemingway."
32After Cézanne's Apples
33and with their sculpted weight,
34Picasso's Pineapples
35shadow a blue-rimmed plate.
36Objets Trouvés? Still Life?
37Each in its fissured skin
38impervious to the knife.
39To peel one, pull the pin.
40That's my last mistress on the easel. I
41call her "The Fallen Picador" -- and why?
42She lived ten years with the minotaur
43and deserved to leave with the honours of war,
44so when Vallauris last July declared
45me president of the corrida, I shared
46the honours with her. Seeing that the bull
47was my symbol, the horse her symbol,
48what end could be more fitting than that they
49should face each other in a ritual way --
50life imitating art, a masterpiece
51of living theatre?
52                      When I took my place
53in the president's box and raised my hand,
54she was the first out, scattering sand
55and with the hooves of her passaging horse
56determining my picture's lines of force.
57She circled the arena, reined in, bowed
58to me as president, and read aloud
59the proclamation in my honour. Then
60rode from the ring, leaving the bulls and men
61to face their deaths. There were no horses killed
62that day, but ever since my dreams are filled
63with goring. The result you see. Had she
64remained, unchanged, the girl who posed for me
65in the light of Liberation, hers
66would be a face the world remembers,
67a daughter of the sun, instead of this
68nightmare metamorphosis
69of woman into horse: familiar head
70and satin flank, the bull's head garlanded
71with entrails.
72                  But enough of her.
73Here's something that I fancy you'll prefer --
74a necklace. Let me help. Look how your skin
75irradiates my metal from within.
76It fits that hollow better than its mould,
77my bull's horned head Chataganier cast in gold.
Publication Notes: 
A Guest from the Future (1995).
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
Special Copyright: 

"From the Life" from <i>Rounding the Horn</i> &#169; 1998 by Jon Stallworthy. Reprinted by permission of the author.