Sudeep Sen
Dreaming of Cezanne

Art is a harmony parallel to nature.

1. Jacket on a Chair

You carelessly tossed
   the jacket on a chair.
The assembly of cloth

collapsed in slow motion
   into a heap of cotton—
cotton freshly picked

from the fields—
   like flesh
without a spine.

The chair’s wooden
   frame provided
a brief skeleton,

but it wasn’t enough
   to renew the coat’s
shape, the body’s

prior strength,
   or the muscle
to hold its own.

When one peels off
   one’s outer skin,
it is difficult to hide

blood’s liquid weave.
   Wood, wool, stitches,
and joints—an epitaph

of a card player’s shuffle,
   and the history
of my dark faith.

[based on Cézanne’s Jacket on a Chair, graphite and watercolour on paper, 47.5 X 30.5 cm, 1890-92]

2. The Skulls

The three gods
   I worship

are dead.
   They stare

from the backs
   of their heads,

   the hollows

of their eyes—
   their vision

leaking from
   every fissure

and crack
   on the cranium.

The bone-skin
   of these skulls

shines like
   the silver sheen

of a new-born

each plate
   like scales

restoring memory,

   only fossils

keep alive.
   Skulls on wood,

on carpet,
   on drapery—

studies encrypted
   like an unwrapped

pyramid of bones,
   mummies waiting

to be embalmed
   in oil and graphite—

as I sprinkle
   water and colour

on the shrine
   of my night gods.

[based on Cézanne’s series The Skulls, oil on canvas / graphite and watercolour on paper, 1890-1906]

3. The Card Players

The deal was done and stamped
   on brown rough leather

of the parchment tabletop.
   Crooked spindly legs

that propped up play
   hardly held its own weight,

let alone the gravity
   of smoke, spirit, connivance.

We held our fists
   close to each other

clenching secrets,
   as if in mistrust—

stiff cards in hand
   like little rectangular blades

to cut
   and bleed our lives away.

Future like the present
   was dark and unlit,

swirling unsteadily
   in tobacco stench

permanently embedded
   in the wood of the walls,

furniture, clothes,
   and our hearts.

But at least
   this was a gamble,

a zone of unsure light,
   an unpredictability

to hold onto amid all
   the grey, brown and blue—

   deep blue, and more blue.

[based on Cézanne’s The Card Players, oil on canvas, 47.5 X 57 cm, 1893-96]