Tristan and les damoiselles d’Avignon

Cassetta-framed, the five women’s stares exist like a sigh,

a slow exhale from the exhibition heat, which has crawled

into my skin and wriggled out as sweat, as it courses

down, stealing bits of dark beige and reapplying

 

the melanin as paint. The female voice of the audio guide

beckons: ‘none of the five women are conventionally attractive.’

 

The voice whirrs into a blur, while my surroundings disappear;

the fluorescent light retracts like birth in reverse; the vision

 

of the portrait launches me back into my childhood bedroom, where I

am lying in my bed on my chest, the surroundings sepia-toned,

 

glowing with the off-reddish hue of bruises. I am sweating

in the evening heat and trying to understand these same five

 

angular women captioned nude female prostitutes in the same

small space where popes, and geniuses, and women newly

 

acknowledged are labelled. My bedroom exists like a waking

dream, a nostalgic space that does not know its existence.

 

In this Picasso exhibition, I sit on a bench, staring at the women

and their angular imperfections, and I am lying in my bed,

 

hearing the booming laughter of dad and his mates, as they drink,

their clinking bottles buzzing as footsteps, crowd noise, finger tapping

 

against glass cases, heavy breathing. ‘You should sleep,’ mum

says, her face, like my bedroom, a round vacant space,

 

where no sharpness exist, her workplace pearl necklace

and apron coiled around her neck, her wedding ring

 

gleaming like a curse, staining the off-red scenery beige

like the five women’s painted flesh, harsh in the fluorescent

 

lighting of the exhibition. ‘The Damoiselles d’Avignon are menacing

and angular,’ the female voice says, but that is until they wear

 

mum’s face.  The five women capture reality into complete

stillness, their nude bodies existing as a vision. The heat

 

inside immures me, so I stand up; I stop listening to the audio guide,

and I walk across the exhibition’s hallways, stretched into the infinity.