Jana Harris teaches creative writing at the University of Washington and at the Writer’s Workshop in Seattle. She is editor and founder of Switched-on Gutenberg. Her most recent publications are You Haven’t Asked About My Wedding or What I Wore; Poems of Courtship on the American Frontier (University of Alaska Press) and the memoir, Horses Never Lie About Love (Simon & Schuster). Other poetry books include Oh How Can I Keep on Singing, Voices of Pioneer Women (Ontario); The Dust of Everyday Life, An Epic Poem of the Northwest (Sasquatch); and We Never Speak of It, Idaho-Wyoming Poems 1889-90 (Ontario) all are available online from Open Road Press as are her two novels, Alaska (Harper & Row) and The Pearl of Ruby City (St. Martin’s). She lives with her husband on a farm in the Cascades.
This poem [is] from The Horse Fair, linked poems on the life and art of animaliere Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899); part psycho-biography, part speculation and intuition, these linked dramatic monologues probe themes of gender, class, and artistic genius against the background of 19th Century Paris and environs.from the author, Jana harris
Artwork “The Wounded Eagle” by Marie-Rosalie (Rosa) Bonheur (France, Bordeaux, 1822-1899) Bibliography: Schaefer, Scott, and Peter Fusco. European Painting and Sculpture in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art: an Illustrated Summary Catalogue. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1987. LACMA
The Wounded Eagle, oil on canvas, 1870
Franco-Prussian War, Chateau near Fontainebleau Forest
(Rosa Bonheur, b. 1822)
Everywhere the tick of trouble.
Nathalie doctors the injured raptor.
Her ice-water stare seeps
into me, freezing.
Menagerie muzzles raised in alarm,
the sheep sniff our discord
like the smoke of a barn fire.
When Caroline’s* carriage
arrived at my gate, her swinging
skirts trailed by the sweetest aria;
Nathalie couldn’t run out
the backdoor fast enough.
She took her meals in town, leaving
my newest visitor and me
with the sin of a barren table
and a herd of empty chairs.
You’re besotted, Nathalie accused.
How could I not be?
Caroline had my mother’s voice,
a treble I thought I’d never
So, a quarrelsome spring:
von Bismarck on the march and
a Hohenzollern Prince about
to steal the Spanish throne.
With France surrounded,
Caroline—trilling Mozart –
departed for Belgium.
Nathalie scudded into the kitchen,
seething, a wind of stored-up darkness.
Arguing hardly worth the breath.
The wounded eagle must be fed.
On this we could agree.
We fortified fences,
We hid our valuables
in a basement crawl space:
paintings, mineral spirits, pigments
–cadmium’s orange jewels,
bone black, carbon black,
precious titanium white.
If Wilhelm’s soldiers burned us out
our basement’s stonehold
would see us through.
My models? My zoo? Oh, my lovely
horses and sheep? I’d sooner slay
the menagerie myself
than see them murdered
and eaten by Huns.
Our fodder dwindled.
My sister, Juju, wrote from Paris:
August’s farm commandeered,
his furniture chopped for firewood.
Bread rationed, the price
of potatoes multiplied tenfold,
even horsemeat out of reach.
At the Jardin des Plantes
cage doors sprung,
leopards roamed Montmartre.
Cabinet ministers dined
on confit de chat and sewer rat.
Making art took a back seat.
At dawn a quick sketch:
deer, boar–born, loved, eaten–a study
of the magnificent wounded bird
as Nathalie fed it the plumpest
mice from her gloved hand.
Even caged and with
only one good wing,
it tried to pull itself up in flight.
From the chateau’s tiled roof
we watched Jager’s Battalion
amass along the frozen river.
If we blow apart the bridges,
the invaders would sack our town.
Prussian horses were not
our sturdy Normans;
delicate throats, fine-boned
as Arabians, groomed to a copper shine
even in December light.
Early in the New Year,
after the Emperor was captured,
Paris streets scythed by anarchy,
the archbishop executed.
Nathalie, my wounded wren, cried
at the thought of her raptor
never flying again.
I promised to paint its portrait,
one wing rising,
a touch of cadmium applied
in up-and-down brushwork
to the chest feathers;
here, there a lead-white quill:
Nathalie’s eagle forever airborne,
ascends through clouds the color
of scorched earth toward
an unfaltering titanium sun.
Like France, like Nathalie and me,
the wounded rise
on one good wing.
*Marie Caroline Miolan-Carvalho (1827-95), French operatic soprano.
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