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Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Fifer--a Boy with a Fife and Red Pants

It doesn't matter what Edouard Manet
chose to do with his eyes and hands
He could have created the same sensations
with clay or a dictionary full of words
Instead some great loneliness touched
his intellectual acuity to gain the silence
of his paints so well we can hear the note

It is what happens to the old we know
when they sink into their last years
One look from them and we are judged
to our depth in full knowledge
of our frailties and imperfections
so much so that we leave the old alone
in their smaller worlds with numb hands

In clay the old artist can feel every grain
instinctively knowing when to stop
pushing it around into the form he expects
Is there enough water and more questions
filter the information through fingers and eyes
more sensations than we know exist
until their crafts explode out of their worlds

Here, Manet, lets his subject stand alone
to hold a fife that normally rests
inside a brass tube that contains and protects
or is this brass tube not a protective item
instead being another instrument with which
the boy produces the sound his fellows
and the moment of marshal music required

The sash that hangs around his shoulder
is not simply one piece of cloth sewn together
but joined so neatly to a brass ring that seems
to be as polished as the buttons on his black tunic
brass that has always lead the parade
and yet there are no drummers or coronets
along side for Manet to exploit in equal daubs

It is shadow that lends the music to this boy
the dark line beneath the sash or behind
the fife on the palm of his hand so unnoticed
by everyone except the artist himself
who sees this light and the lack of it in oils
in unexpected overtones of the note being played
by the boy in the red pants and spat-covered shoes

Where is this piper besides the eye of the painter
though we are to believe his place is among
other musicians as his eyes betray the concentration
necessary when others vibrate columns of air
in unseen instruments standing at the side
of a road in a small French town where Manet
sees these scarlet pantaloons with a black stripe

The boy's cap is jauntily tilted to his right
perhaps like other boys in the invisible band
or just an expression of his own youthful style
this cap with red crown and gold braid
adds nothing to the music but is the child's crown
that Edouard provides to this youthful musician
playing unknown music on a ghost street

Barry G. Wick

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