"Repoussoir"

"Judith and Holofernes"

Simon Constam

Simon Constam lives and works in Toronto. His poetry has been published in a half-dozen magazines & websites, among them The Jewish Literary Journal and Poetica. Since late 2018, he has published a new aphorism every day on Instagram and by email. He has been reading and writing poetry for more than 55 years and today has a poetry library of more than a thousand books. Simon, his wife, and a friend own and operate the world’s premier solo travel website.

“‘Repoussoir’ takes, as its start, the painting Paris Street; Rainy Day (1877) by Gustave Caillebotte.”

“Many Renaissance and Baroque painters took up the story, told in the Book of Judith, of the beautiful widow who saved her town from certain destruction at the hands of the Assyrian General Holofernes by entering his camp, seducing him, and then beheading him. Among those who painted the subject were Dore, Caravaggio, Tintoretto, and Lucas Cranach the Elder. Probably the most famous painting on the subject is Gustav Klimt’s Judith and the Head of Holofernes. Judith’s beauty is paramount in the painting, and only after our first gaze do we see, in the lower right, part of the severed head of Holofernes. In recent years, with the resurrection of the reputation of Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653), her painting has become recognized for its brilliance: Judith Slaying Holofernes emphasizes the brutality of the act, sparing no detail. Gentileschi was raped in her youth. It’s said the painting may be an expression of her desire for revenge.”

     In the foreground they
     have my attention.

     But just out of sight behind them,
     behind the building, is where it happened.

     And now they have turned to take in,
     what I assume to be the Gendarmerie
     responding to the bank’s alarm,
     though on the surface of the street
     no one has taken notice yet
     and still will not
     for several moments.

     A rainy day is best for many quiet things
     and the criminal class has long known well
     that appearing in the foreground,
     hiding in plain sight,
     confers the advantage of perspective
     against the minds that always see the criminals
     in the distance and gallop towards the crime.

     In Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-up,
     if you look closely, what you recall
     are the car telephone, the emotional distance,
     Carnaby Street trousers and the full-frontal Jane Birkin.
     Not the murder in the bushes.
     Somewhere over there,
     beyond what we want to see.

     It is not as simple as cutting a man’s head off.
     You must also sell it to the world
     or if not to the world, to literature.

     The heroine must be of good character
     if not good stock.
     And she must save not just herself.
     She must save her family, a city, a town.
     Even if only just a child.
     Much is expected of a woman.

     And she must be handsome.
     Each depiction of her must find her
     loathsome
     but for her exceeding beauty.

     And she must be honoured for her difference,
     her lack of forebears. And Holofernes’ army
     ought not to seek revenge
     though armies always do.
     Such revenge is never spoken of here.
     His men scatter out of fear.
     They do not tear every hovel and market apart
     to find Judith and destroy her town
     as surely must have happened in real life.

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