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"The Desire to Paint" [by Charles Baudelaire]

BaudelaireUnhappy the man, but happy the artist who blazes with desire.

I burn to paint the woman who visits me once in a blue moon and always makes an abrupt exit, like the ghost in a hotel room, something the previous occupant left behind with her nightgown. It’s been a long time since I last saw her.

She is as beautiful as the black of her nocturnal dress.  Her eyes are two dark caverns where dim lights flicker and go out, but when she fixes you in her gaze they light up again, a blaze of light in the dark.

Shall I compare her to a black sun? I can picture a sky full of dark stars that have supplanted the lighted ones to which pursuers of happiness aim their prayers. But it is usually the moon that she makes me dream of. It’s the moon that acts on her, changes her; not the idyllic white moon that resembles a cold bride, but a sinister drunk-making moon suspended among clouds driven by storm winds at midnight; not the moon that presides over the devout dreamer’s slumber, but a moon ripped from the heavens, a small planet where revolutions follow conquests and even the witches of Thessaly dare not dance upon the ground.

In her brow you can see her undying hunger for prey. But her nostrils flare, she smiles a smile that glitters with grace, and when she laughs, her wide-open mouth, white teeth, red lips, make you dream of a flower that opens miraculously atop a volcano.

Some women arouse in you the unyielding desire to woo them and win them. But she makes you wish to die in her arms slowly as she watches, and flinches not.

from Le desire de peindre by Charles Baudelaire; translated by David Lehman
from Conduit

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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