after Lucien Freud's Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (1995)
So we reach the end of our argument with beauty -
the pink nude sails like a conch out of her girlhood,
exiled from its whorled walls and tiger shell,
a refugee in her soft new body.
It happens swiftly, while she sleeps – one day she is monstrous.
She loafs like a cloud that has drifted indoors
and no longer knows what to do with itself.
In his studio, drop cloths slather the windows like lard,
apricot roses fray, olive upholstery fattens
into the great abstraction of her body -
flesh squidged over the couch in a thick salve,
hillocks trowelled with creamy putty.
She has outlived sex. As she poses she dreams
of long walks down Job Centre's fluorescent halls,
the monotony of standing-room queues. Her eyes roll in sleep
the way a bar of light rolls under photocopier glass,
smooth as charity. The artist tells her to crawl, spread
her legs, grind her arse like a pig.
In the scrunched paint rag of her face
there is a crease, as if to say here intelligence lives,
here the rational, the sceptical, but also
something that rebels, says you are rump, hog, beast.
He swaddles her hips and boulderstone breasts, grouts
her moon-drum stomach in blue oil,
winnows a hog's hair brush down her caesarean scar.
She has kernelled another body in her body there,
perhaps one of his, it doesn't matter, he can't
remember if he has had her, the point is
she understands largesse, he can see from the way
she dangles the hock of her arm casually
as he paints between her legs -
there is nothing to which she will not submit
like a nihilist Cimabue madonna
who lifts the son of god on one hip
but shrugs her other shoulder
as if to dismiss the weight of her gift.
I don't usually take to ekphrasis, but on this occasion I make an exception. I didn't know Freud's painting when I first read it, and I am glad I didn't. Because I have since viewed Benefits Supervisor Sleeping via google, and now I can't unsee it. And my first view of it was through the poet's eyes. And that was just wonderful. Not that the painting isn't wonderful. It is. Which comes first? The painting or the ekphrasis? It would be kind of interesting, eh, to write an ekphrasis about a work of art that (so far) doesn't exist. I kind of almost thought that that was what Sarah had done. I don't know why I thought that, with such a clear signpost under the title. Perhaps I was a bit stunned by The Hazards (UQP) which is a stunning book. I was under her spell.