Cairo, 1973

I shiver when I first see The Bathers in an art book,
rush downtown to avoid war time curfews at dusk.
The ancient train creaks up my spine, rattles the station
as I lug my oversized book past Suleiman Pasha street,
past statues of long gone leaders, swing a right
at Ben Zion home goods store, walk into a maze
of streets, emerge breathless at the antique shop,
ask, how much to order a replica?
The price will wreak havoc upon my student budget,
and like a homing pigeon, I hurry back to grandfather
to charm a loan, suffer his housekeeper’s miserly
grub for a term, her tasteless offerings versus
relative treats at Yussef’s deli, to atone
for my fiscal indiscretion. Two months later, I own
a blue and green canvas with nude people reclining
by a lake. What did I know of art in my teens,
though looking at the painting, I learn everything
about color, its shameless ease, the different worlds
it inhabits, blurred faces staunching the breeze,
slender branches, legs, thighs, a quiet world
without wars or bombs blazing in desert sun, glanced
from grandfather’s balcony. The war fizzles to an end,
former combatants haggle over border design, bodies
are packed from the Sinai, victory declared by both sides
to great pomp and parades, as I savor my share
of Cézanne’s vision, gilded frame above my bed, lonely
nights upon my face, my quiet refrain of thank you.


The Bathers, Cezanne