Les Mouches; Musée des Beaux Arts Redux
By: Charlie Brice
Love or hatred calls for self-surrender.
J.P. Sartre, The Flies
He liked to keep it wet and warm—no matter
that l’autre femme shot drugs through her veins,
no matter how often he carried their mauvaise foi
back to Faith and their marital bed.
He told Faith, only a few months earlier,
that he wanted to die holding her hand
then trashed their room; torched their playhouse.
“We should never have been together!”
“It wasn’t sex,” he said, his head tilted like
the dog on the old RCA Victor record label.
I thought about his dying fingers braided
with Faith’s, a simulacrum, now, of flies.
“Everyone has a dark side.” He wanted my
understanding, that impotent unction of our
therapeutic age. Instead, we stood in a coffee
house, shook hands, and said goodbye.
My hand remembered resting on a coffin’s
lid a few years back, its metallic surface
a poor substitute for flesh, and today,
in his hand, un autre décès.
Musée des Beaux Arts Redux
With thanks to W.H. Auden and Billy Collins
Who dismantled Gauguin’s hut and removed
his door, the lintel of which I saw in
1993 at the Musée d’Orsay—
those jolly jambs with the words
Maison du Jouir written on them?
What sensual delight Gauguin took in
the female form, at times, trop jouir for
his hosts in the Marquesas Islands,
especially Monsignor Martin whose
catechism had captured the callow
on the island and whose lips must have pursed
at the sight of the pornographic photographs
that lined Gauguin’s walls. Amid all that
eros, one wonders what jouir his children
enjoyed, abandoned as they were in
England. What doors opened for them after
he walked out to pursue his dreams? How rancid
their cakes and ale; how rude the rules they learned
from his absence. What labor performed to
avoid the abyss of le nom de père.
Charlie Brice is the author of Flashcuts Out of Chaos (2016), Mnemosyne’s Hand (2018), and An Accident of Blood (2019), all from WordTech Editions. His poetry has been nominated for the Best of Net anthology and twice for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in The Atlanta Review, The Sunlight Press, Chiron Review, Plainsongs, I-70 Review, Mudfish 12, Anti-Heroin Chic, and elsewhere.
I had hit a dry spot and didn’t have anything new to write about, so I decided to thumb through my poetry file and came across a version of this poem entitled, “It Wasn’t Sex.” I’d written it about six years ago and had returned to it periodically, but just couldn’t get it into the shape I wanted. I had been reading e.e. cummings amazing novel, The Enormous Room, which had been sitting on my bookshelf for fifty years (yes, fifty years). It’s a tremendous book that I’d recommend to anyone. Cummings was incarcerated, without charge, for five months in a French prison in 1917. Anyway, a good 15% of the book is written in French, which occasioned my brushing up on that language. I’m a big fan of Sartre’s, and as I reread my poem and thought about this friend of mine who had so horribly mistreated his wife, I thought of Sartre’s play, “The Flies.” My friend had killed his marriage to a wonderful woman. Murdered their relationship. I thought about flies circling the detritus of their marriage. So, I came up with the title, Les Mouches, and inserted an epigraph from Sartre’s play, and then everything just fell into place. By the way, as should be evident from my recording of this poem, I took French for Reading in graduate school. My pronunciation of that lovely language leaves a lot to be desired.
“Musee des Beaux Arts Redux”
One of my favorite poets, Billy Collins, has been posting readings and discussions of his poetry and that of others on Facebook lately. These presentations have been terrific. In one of them, he read Auden’s wonderful poem “Musée des Beaux Arts” based on Breughel’s Icarus and the his, Billy’s, poem “Musée des Beaux Arts Revisited” in which he riffed on Bosch’s The Temptation of St. Anthony. So I decided to try my own version. For some reason, I remembered gazing upon the doors to Gauguin’s hut in the Marquesas Islands when our family visited France in 1993. As a psychoanalyst, I have an interest in narcissism and have always been fascinated with the kind of narcissism it would take to abandon a spouse and children to go off and paint in a tropical island. I love Gauguin’s paintings, but like some other artists I admire, would not really want to be in a room with him. Anyway, I was struck by the pleasure theme inscribed on those doors and the contrast with what his children had to experience while growing up without a father. I end the poem with an ironic reference to the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s concept of le nom de père, the name of the father—the idea that the father’s role in the family is to provide the law, and yet Lacan himself was utterly unable to prevent the hateful splintering that is the hallmark of psychoanalytic movements worldwide and his own followers in particular.