La Japonaise

By Patrick T. Reardon

She’s large for a small woman when

you turn the corner at the Museum of

Fine Arts in Boston and there she is,

in her thick, luscious red, brightly

embroidered kimono, Monet’s first

wife Camille, just three years before

her death at 32, but looking quite

happy.  Is she naked under there?

Under that thick, tactile fabric,

sporting a comically grim, cartoonishly

muscled, mustachioed samurai about

to draw his sword from its scabbard?


As a model, Camille is having fun

here, not like Victorine Meurent

with her straight-ahead challenge

of a stare in Manet’s Olympia, bare

except for her shoes and a black

ribbon around her neck, nor Pope

Innocent X who, chin-thick, glares

at Velazquez (and you and me),

plotting revenge, perhaps, or still

fuming about Oliver Cromwell and

the fate of Ireland — such are the

worries of a pontiff at the dawn of

the Age of Reason — and don’t even

ask what’s on that paper in his left

hand. He has, sitting there, five more

years to live; Victorine, half a century.


No portrait is being painted of me,

and I can’t tell you how many years I

have left. I know I won’t see my baby

grandson Noah turn forty. Or thirty.

Twenty, maybe. My friend Eunice

wrote the biography of Victorine, and

I can’t get enough of studying the

Velazquez Innocent on my computer

screen next to Francis Bacon’s take

on it, called his screaming Pope. I’ve

been to the Orangery Water Lillies

wall curves, and I’ve walked inside

Monet’s backyard paintings at Giverny,

but, listen, when I turn the corner at

the MFA, I get a jolt of joy each time

— you can see it on my face — to see

Camille again in her painting, seven

feet by five feet, in her fancy dress,

blond wig, pensive eyes and naked

smile, looking back perhaps at me.


Patrick T. Reardon


This poem originally appeared in the New English Review on 3.1.24



Written by : Patrick T. Reardon

For more than three decades Patrick T. Reardon was an urban affairs writer, a feature writer, a columnist, and an editor for the Chicago Tribune. In 2000 he was one of a team of 50 staff members who won a Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting. Now a freelance writer and poet, he has contributed chapters to several books and is the author of Faith Stripped to Its Essence. His website is

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