The woman aflame in the window, the girl wielding a lamp, and the grieving mother all share the same face: the artist’s secret lover. Today Vanity Fair tells me it’s so.
A small shame I have suffered these eleven years: in courting you I appropriated an anti-war masterpiece for my own erotic ends.
Is it possible to imagine more than sadism in the artist’s wartime portrayals of his mistress? Was it a sign of his commitment (to her? to the anti-fascist cause?) that Marie-Therese’s multiplied face is the one on which he refracted the suffering of the bombed Basque village?
I wrote you a ghazal entitled “Our Affair.” The epigraph named Guernica. You read it on my couch beneath a framed reproduction. (Tonight the couch and print are gone but you are near.) Here is one of its couplets:
A bird tears a vowel from its gut—
your hand clamps down on my mouth.
A light bulb explodes—
our limbs elongate and swell.
I’m wondering if I can transfer this shame into a form of knowing—not only the lure of the victim, the cruelty of the artist—but something more frightening—something like the fragility of all commitments.