The top of the forest’s canopy echoes the topography below, of the ground and, beneath, of the mother rocks, yet we are still a little inclined to disbelieve our own stories, not sure from which chamber within us they emanate, or organ. But consequences add to their causes; to tell the stories and to keep telling them expands the space within us from which they emanate. Did you know that within each person is a ballroom, an airfield, a city, a ground beneath which the city extends its functions through zones that are elaborated upon in dreams? Yet we are still a little disinclined to believe our own stories.
Cézanne couldn't see. Not normally. His mind stayed slimly on this side of the apple. Then one day through the aperture of a shadow his mind poured out on the other side, and he saw himself looking at himself from the shadow and laughing.
There are no edges to anything, he began to sing, only his singing did not take the form of a voice. It took the form of shadows that moved into the room from out of his wife's painted eyes. His wife bent to lift something out of a hot black square whose edges eased out into infinity. He could not place an "oven" over there, only a black square, only an edgeless infinity. Very well, he would eat. But he would not trust that where his eyes saw an edge between his napkin and the table there really was an edge — no no no no no. Shadows. A wife, her eyes.
I cannot look at the world through Cézanne’s wife’s eyes, though I can see her eyes as Cézanne wanted them to be seen. Much has been written about how Cézanne wanted things to be seen. Cézanne’s wife’s name was Marie-Hortense Fiquet. Cézanne painted 27 portraits of her.
1. A door behind him. The handle of the door by his knees, though if he backs toward the door the handle will shift to align with his hips. The frame of the door framing him. Stop moving, he says.
2. Behind the door there can always be seen the feeling of getting free of some invisible language bound round one’s wrists, perhaps one’s very flesh.
3. To live with another person is to live with the flap and wheeze of their breath. A kind of weather that cannot be got out of the house even by opening all the windows.
4. The food they eat together they excrete separately. The rhythms of domestic life fill the house not his canvases.
5. There is a tone he uses when he thinks he is trying to help her. It bends sideways off his voice and falls heavily to the floor, crawls around on its belly, squirms. Have to be honest with yourself says Cézanne about exactly what? To whom?
6. He does not like to hear what she says; he says he cannot hear.
7. The door is absurd, the table is absurd, the motion of the wrist in flicking away a fly, that is the most absurd of all. And to see one’s world this way does begin to change it, she feels, though the change doesn’t register on his canvas.
8. She leaves the yeast out of the bread; they eat slices without butter; he pushes his chair back from the table and groans; she says she is going to see her sister later; he says, over and over, “Leave me alone,” speaking, it seems, to the canvases.
9. From then on she removes herself from his portraits of her. Her body appears on the canvases, but she is not there.
10. Where she really is, that’s her business. Her privacy is not something to be penetrated or breached, but something to be regarded as a face is, or could be — an agent of action.
11. There are edges, she says, to everything.
12. Cézanne is lifting something heavy. The urge to help him appears in red streaks within her. Alongside is the urge not to, which is an arrestingly deep blue.
13. A couple of things, forks and knives and something she is in the midst of folding, on the table. She does love the table. She likes to look at it, she admires its edges. It is a handsome table, a table of their life together, a surface that holds them both. Where it is least perfect, most damaged — her love touches there.
14. He tells her how to hold her head; she holds it a different way. He tells her again; she holds it that way. He paints the agreement, the assent, and fits her roughly into it.
15. He. He. He. He. He. He. He. He. Goes away. Comes home. Comes home badly. Goes.
16. When she is alone she poses for portraits nobody paints. These are the portraits that will not be remembered, and thus are the most accurate, she feels.
17. He remarks that the bread seems…different. She nods. Yes, she agrees, it does seem different. That we can agree on. Most certainly.
18. It is not so much that she is alone but that she is. Alone. Not seen by another. When she looks at the canvases she feels like a sack of grain. The bread, then, is her own disposition.
19. She would like to squander a great deal of money playing a silly game, then walk casually through a doorway into a room where music, good music, is playing.
20. She puts a pillow on the bed. But his portraits drain all action out of her.
21. Let’s go, he whispered to her once, in a dark room. Goosebumps all along one side of her body. They never show up in the paint.
22. Looking backwards, looking forwards, bending, sitting. Bending to pick up a spoon from the floor. The weight of the silver in her hand — would you like to buy it from her?
23. She looks at him. This looking omitted from the portrait.
24. Movement, so much movement — this is what’s left over, after his portraits. It lives in her skin, it lives in the curtain, it lives in the light, it lives — even in him, it lives.
25. On her way to her sister’s. She doesn’t have a sister.
26. The feeling of not being looked at, finally — a precious thing she holds in one hand, close to her throat, as she falls asleep.
27. Anyway, the bread rises anyway. The leavening lives in the house with them. It’s there in the portrait you just can’t see it.