In my black hat

by Christopher Southgate

Thora Dardel sees her portrait by Modigliani for the first time in forty-six years.
I am not the woman you see sitting in the corner
at the private view. My name is Dardel.
In nineteen nineteen, in Montparnasse,
I was painted by the dying Modigliani.
He sketched me in a café. He devoured me
with his eyes. He took me
to Rue de la Grande Chaumiére, number eight.
I see you hesitate. Yes, how faded I have become.

You ask whether he was good to be with, this Amedeo?

Ah no. He drank continually, and spat blood,

and still if Jeanne had not been there, and the child,

he would have consumed me. When he was dead

Jeanne walked backwards out of their window.

There was nothing left of her, without him.

 

I could see her in a small painting behind his head –

a long oval face with almond eyes,

heart-stopping, lovely, cursed eyes

that cursed you as you looked at them.

The flat smelled of coal dust.

As you see I wore my black hat

and kept my hands in my lap.

I have lived in Paris, and Stokholm,

and Montevideo. I have family who love me.

But tonight at last it is clear.

I am not the woman you see sitting in the corner

stiffly, slow-speaking, preferring her own company.

I am that young student, head on one side,

in a black hat, in love with Nils Dardel,

devoured in an instant in a café

by a sad-eyed Italian who died soon after,

and I always shall be.