House of Père Lacroix

I thought I would write a novel
about the window with its shadow
set in the two-story house.
Cézanne stands at the sunchoke hedge,
alone and licking a brush
among the tree’s traces of changing shade.
The woman—I named her
and almost saw her—could be
flapping a pillowcase at the shutter
as though fanning a fire
that takes the frame by its walls.
Then, inside, a web-stitch quilt
pulls across a poster bed.
The house would be preparing
for wedding guests, Lacroix in the garden
spading a strawberry plant
to move the woolen roots.
Did Cézanne have nothing
to do with the people
he kept within the roof?—a flat red slant
marked by the slash of branches.
There is a close mess of buttered brushstrokes.
The house set back in dashes of leaves—
a perplexing green—guards a
shadow that could almost come
to memory, the window empty.


Copyright © 2016 by Tyler Mills. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 10, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“When I lived in the Washington metropolitan area, I would find myself wandering through the (free!) National Gallery of Art on weekend afternoons and often gravitated toward one particular painting: Cézanne’s House of Père Lacroix. I found myself inventing characters and a backstory for the painting, a story that went nowhere. I’ve moved a lot in my life, and I think the reason why I’m so drawn to the painting is that, for me, it invites the perspective of someone who is visiting a house you know intimately but can no longer enter.”
—Tyler Mills