Eve Rifkah


The three poems selected are from a manuscript titled "Dear Suzanne" on the life of Suzanne Valadon 1865-1938. Valadon was a well known model (the woman in pink in Renoir's "Dance at Bougival"), mother of artist Maurice Utrillo and acclaimed artist herself. The ms consists of persona poems in the voice of Valadon mingled with epistolary poems from me to her from events in my life that parallel her own.

"May 9, 1956" ends with a quote from Valadon; she was quite attuned to nature which is clear from her paintings even when a figure dominates. I was a city child; my family occasionally visited Arnold Arboretum where I discovered the solace of nature. On February 16, 1983 my mother died; the poem corresponds with a poem on the death Valadon's mother Madelaine. In April 1990 I bought a 13 room 150 year old house with a man whom I had a tumultuous relationship; Valadon and her 2nd husband literally bought a falling down castle to live in. Only one of the towers was habitable. They also had a tumultuous relationship. Both our relationships ended in separation.

In this manuscript I wanted to divide my voice from Valadon's. I fell in love with her image in Renoir's painting on the many trips my father and I made to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. I spoke to her in my mind; the letters continued that relationship. Valadon died ten years before I was born yet she had a prime place in my life. My father told me her name, her relationship to the many artists who adored her, of her son's unknown father, yet my artist father did not tell me, perhaps did not know, that she was also an artist. Coming from an unhappy childhood, I consider my parents to be art and language.





May 9, 1956


I flit among shades of pink and blue and violet. I bury my nose in each one and inhale. Here, away from stale, I breathe. My father suffering from allergies sneezes into his store of handkerchiefs. We walk through clouds of azaleas, colors changing with each step. Today in the arboretum, the most beautiful place in my world, the lilacs are blooming. My parents spread out the blanket and sit. I keep wandering among the trees as though I walk in Impressionist paintings. Leaf-shadows dapple my shirt. I find my spot in the sun, heat enters my skin flows through my body. Roots emerge from my feet plant me in this spot. I want to hold green forever.

My father calls and I slowly walk back to the car while mother tells me to move my legs. At home I am trapped between big bodies in tiny rooms, roaches that scurry in the night, floors covered in grime. Out my bedroom windows I see only the brick back wall of the market a few feet away, a gravel driveway in between. I open the window lean out try to see the sky. I lay on my bed, close my eyes, remember the motion of wind across long grass.

A castle is not a home.



February 26, 1983


The country house is surrounded by a skirt of sleeping fields. Sheltered here I sew cloth windows searching for a way out. My art hangs in galleries – one sold. Never more. Pencils wear to nubs – a hollow ache. I feed my son summer peeled and blanched and frozen away.

Today my mother died. I dwindled her to death long before her heartless heart stopped. Swept her away. Broom straw rattles my memory flaring into nightmare suffocating under her weight – I scream. And scream again until only dust motes star the morning light.

When asked, I made believe her death for years. Now on this day relief stings and blurs. Death cuts the bind of lies; I break loose free fall into sweet February clear air. New blood already rising, a spring awakening. I dance on a frozen grave. You are half an orphan, my father tells me. From birth, I reply.




April 1990


The house L and I bought creaked with 200 years of wind and wail. The only insulation the interior walls we tore down to make the kitchen larger until I alone dragged rolls of pink insulation up a rickety ladder to the attic. L. gone more and more until coming home at 2 in the morning to leave at 7. One night he enters the bedroom close to dawn. I asked why. He turned, slept downstairs until completely gone. All my relationships ended this way - a slow leaking out.

Thirteen rooms heavy on my head all I could do to seal away the cold. Thirteen, but all my numbers lack luck. Tenants entered and left. I sold or gave away all L’s possessions, which he refused to remove. All the things bought and left; he leaves a trail behind like crumbs forgotten. Not even a crow fed here.

This was my castle, Suzanne, the wide pine floors, knotted as my life. No sustenance or warmth, I wandered rooms haunted by foolish dreams. Until I shook off a cold embrace sold the heavy dining table, the loom, the spinning wheel. The threads cut – I stepped away. No looking back, no salt lick on my cheeks.



Eve Rifkah is editor of the literary journal Diner and co-founder of Poetry Oasis, Inc., a non-profit poetry association dedicated to education, promoting local poets and publishing Diner. Poems have or will appear in Bellevue Literary Review, The MacGuffin, 5 AM, Parthenon West, newversenews.com, poetrymagazine.com, Chaffin Journal, Porcupine Press, The Worcester Review, California Quarterly, ReDactions, poemeleon.org, Southern New Hampshire Literary Journal and translated into Braille. Her chapbook At the Leprosarium won the 2003 Revelever chapbook contest. At this time she is a professor of English at Worcester and Fitchburg State Colleges and a workshop instructor.