Ellen Andreé Comments in a Letter to Her Sister
on L’absinthe by Degas
Of course I look dead drunk. I think that’s what
he aimed for—and, of course, he always got
the effect he wanted. I am staring out,
my eyes unfocused. Marcellin is the lout
beside me, puffing on a pipe, his eyes
scanning the room, as if for his next prize,
his next seduction. He has a soft drink,
I have a green cocktail—green, and I think
it’s called Absinthe. I’m not a connoisseur
of mixed drinks, so I’m not completely sure
that’s right. We both look stupid, but I guess
that’s what Monsieur Degas sought to express.
Painters are strange creatures—men who can look
on your bare form and never feel the hook
of lust snag in their flesh—like doctors they
can see you but not be carried away
with the desire most men feel in their blood
at a woman’s nakedness. I guess that’s good.
He’s never made advances—yet sometimes
I wonder if he even sees my charms
or thinks the parts of me that ravish men
might be a prize he’d go great lengths to win.
I’m getting off the subject. I’ll be down
next Saturday to see you in your town.
I’m glad to hear, thank God, Dafne, your child,
got over smallpox—that the case was mild.
To answer you, I don’t know if I’ll pose
for him in the future. As far as modeling goes,
I doubt if I can do it anymore.
I don’t like being painted as a whore,
and a drunk whore at that. As Crème de Menthe,
is always preferable over Absinthe,
modeling is dull; the stage is so much better.
I prefer acting. Now I’ll post this letter.
by David W. Landrum
from Autumn Sky Poetry Number 19, October 2010
Painting by Edgar Degas, “The Absinthe Drinker.” 1876. Oil on canvas. Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.