Thursday, April 7, 2022

The Luncheon on the Grass

I am fascinated, though perhaps I shouldn’t be,
with Edouard Manet’s The Luncheon on the Grass,
known as Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe
if one smokes French cigarettes with gold satin filters.

A nude woman sits in the grassy shade,
and two young male dandies, a slight leer
on their bearded, aristocratic faces,
are dressed in black frock coats and frippery.

Another woman has pared down
to her birthday suit to skinny dip in the background.
Hmm. Let me emphasize that: hmm.
Did the foursome set off to have a picnic,

with the men casually remarking
once the wine and cheese were unpacked,
“Hey, you ladies should take off your clothes”?
Were the women suddenly overcome with the vapors,

too hot to keep their ample bosoms under wraps?
I sometimes wonder if, a few acres to the left,
Max Yasgur is watching Richie Havens
take the stage to sing “Handsome Johnny”

to a crowd of hippies half a million strong.
These are mere stragglers who didn’t heed the warning
not to take the brown acid.
Speaking of . . .

It seems plausible that bad mushrooms
are hiding behind the basket of food,
the men thinking they’re looking at pumpkins,
the women tripping on ergot cheese.

I just can’t find a narrative to go with such bucolic hijinks.
I have one theory roundly rebuffed:
The flying saucer left minutes earlier.
The men are dazed because of missing time,

and the plump ladies will give birth to alien babies.
Jackson Pollack will be hired years later
by the infamous Men in Black
to squirt away the large gray heads

with water guns filled with paint,
the portrait having been commissioned
by people wearing tin foil hats in Roswell.

~William Hammett

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