This beautiful head, this whole body, like a Byzantine empress on the mosaics of Ravenna—and this nose, this mouth—and the eyes, they too, those wonderful eyes—all these the worms will eat. And nothing will remain, absolutely nothing!
—Hodler, letter to Hans Mühlestein, ca. late 1914
1915 The Dead Valentine Godé-Darel
Someone has buckled black shoes on her feet.
The lines in the painting sweep horizontally,
for All things have a tendency towards the horizontal, to spread out
like water on the earth. Her body is a solitary animal
on its way to the dirt. Three blue stripes mark the wall
above the bed—are they sky, water, or empty of meaning?
The indifferent flatness of the mattress, her bed frame,
the wooden floor—her thin arms resting on her belly.
This is what’s left. The pure unanimated flesh of her.
Hodler kept painting, five oils the day after her death.
But why those shoes? The polished shine of the hides.
1915 The Dying Valentine Godé-Darel
The morning before she died, her shorn head rests
against the white pillow. White sheets, mouse-gray walls.
No roses, no clocks, no weeping willow. Her nose is larger now.
Her eyes and mouth are wide open, she is almost a corpse.
Life slips in and out of her slowing breath like a shadow. Her mouth is a heart-
shaped cave. Once her lover craved her body.
Over two hundred paintings, and still he documents the changes.
He observes her. His obsessive brush—does love move it?
Or does he paint despite their love? He stays by her bed.
Once, he knelt before her and leaned his head against her belly.
The muscle in her throat stands out like a welt.
There is not a streak of red in the room.
1914 Valentine Godé-Darel in Bed, with Clock and Roses
Eyeing the wall, she has turned her gaze from the painter.
Though he’s two decades older, she’s the one dying.
Her black braid reaches her shoulder. A green stripe
crawls up her neck. Her fingers rest, long and unclenched.
Three red roses float vaseless at the foot of her bed.
And in the right top corner, a tiny clock. Time consumes,
merciless as a mountain. Even mountains wear down
with age and they lie flat like water. But not yet, not yet.
There are the roses, and the clock, and the embroidery smocked
on her sleeve—three silver circles—such stubborn prettiness.
1914 The Sick Valentine Godé-Darel in Bed, with Folded Hands
The red of her hair has darkened. Her fingers are clasped, as if in prayer.
But she is not praying. Those eyes—
how fiercely they stare at her lover as he paints her.
She is propped up on her pillow, too weak to sit on her own.
He mixes sage and brown, filling in the angles at her cheekbones.
Grief, rage, pity—a pair of unreadable eyes—
wet against the vertical peach strokes of her face.
1913 Valentine Godé-Darel with Disheveled Hair
Her head’s upright and tilted slightly to one side.
Consciousness of beauty tumbles from her face
like her unbound auburn hair. That ballerina’s neck,
the slightly open, slightly smiling mouth. Another woman
could imagine the pleasure of kissing her. Or of feeding
her slices of cold apple, the flesh as white as her teeth.
Her eyes are so heavy with love that her lids droop.
Soon, she will bear a daughter. How fruitful her body.
An empress, a painter, a muse, a woman whose breasts are starting to ripen.