Post Impression of a Barmaid

Edouard_Manet,_A_Bar_at_the_Folies-Bergère

My hands could not decide
how to rest on the bar.
Arms at my sides—aloof, unmoored.
Arms crossed, holding one wrist—on guard.
Fingers interlaced look like teeth.
One hand resting on the other—maybe lazy.
Arms wide, each hand clutching the nearest edge,
wrists out—an open beckoning.
Ready to serve.
Watching the kindly crowd,
something flickered, overlaid.
Somehow I became her, remembered
many years of serving bored, weary students
the image of the barmaid of Folies-Bergère*.
Her stance denies the welling vacant eyes.
See how she looks upon us,
her patrons, object of our bourgeois gaze?
Ever awaiting the empty whim, our tip,
next to a stemmed dish of tangerines,
Manet’s sign of fille de joie**.
Ever pouring the public what they think
will finally satisfy:
a drink, Degas, degrees, desire.
I can’t be sure if the reflection
behind, leaning toward
the moneyed man, is hers or mine.
The angle wrong, reflected bottles
missing or mismatched with actual ones.
Perhaps there is no mirror at all,
no skewed perspective, or all is skewed.
I face forward looking
for your eyes, quiet in the bright
din of artists everywhere, most retired.
Before me, behind me, up in the corner, there!
A woman’s green slippered feet,
perched bodiless on trapeze!
I don’t need to see her face
to know why she prefers the air.

2017

*Folies-Bergère: FUH-lee Bear-zhare: a famous cabaret music hall, located in Paris, France
**fille de joie: FEE-de zhwa: literally, “girl of joy,” euphemism for prostitute

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