Jeanne, again.

Today I picked up a book from interlibrary loan, at the downtown library that I used to work at before we moved to Alaska. Interlibrary loan, in case you aren’t aware, is the beautiful service provided by most library systems, where in the odd chance they don’t have a material you would like to ingest, they will find it for you.

Luckily, I knew where  to tell them where to look. The University of Tennessee library, whose collection I am just itching to get my hands on this fall when I become a student there, had the book I needed. The book is Modigliani: Man and Myth, by Jeanne Modigliani. Jeanne was Modigliani’s only surviving child, born of the passionate, doomed relationship between Modi and his muse, Jeanne Hébuterne.

A mon seul desir. 

I’ve written about the couple before, but they have been on my mind quite fiercely. A co-worker of mine, who is a poet and editor, offered to edit one of my short pieces for fun. You might remember it, I shared the original on here a while back.

Here is the re-worked piece:

This is How I See Them © Chrissy Dano Johnson, 2012

This is how I see them: He’s short and wiry of limb, and wearing well-worn brown painter’s paints that are smudged with charcoal, ink, and thumbprint sized dollops of paint in navy, cream vermillion. He just finished painting her lips, and was saving a bit of the vermillion in his tray for that. She’s nude, reclined on his modest and lumpy bed that’s covered with her mother’s best scarf, the paisley one in red and gold. She nicked it from her mother’s bureau because Modi wanted something soft, clean, and rich against her bare skin when he painted her.

Jeanne’s once bony frame is softening, plumping out in the early expansion of her pregnancy. Her stomach swells, her hips are no longer angular, her breasts are full, round, and taut. She’s almost asleep as he finishes, and he finishes quickly: Modigliani completed paintings in afternoons, not days or weeks. His dark brow is furrowed, his skin is beady with sweat in the heat of the flat and the fever that’s eating him from the inside.

He steps away from the canvas, appraising the golds and reds and shadows, drinks wine from a large, chipped teacup, nods, and starts to clean his brushes. The soft, purposeful noises rouse Jeanne from her almost-nap and she stretches her long arms over her head and stands. She’s glowing with sweat and dizzy with hormones and heat. Modi wipes his sooty, paint-flecked hands on a stained flour sack draped over a cane chair next to his easel, and walks toward Jeanne. She stares at him, fixated by his movements, and when he reaches where she stands, still nude, he grabs great heaps of her dark auburn hair. He twirls it round his fingers, and it tangles a little in his grasp. He then moves his hands down her neck, over her clavicle, and rests at her breasts before placing one hand on each side of her ribcage.

He feels each rib expand and contract with her breath as her lungs fill with the dusty, hot air of their flat. He knows his own mind, body, and especially lungs are doomed by disease, opium, and drink. Stars will soon form behind his eyes; blood might soon trickle from his mouth and Jeanne will have to watch him die.

But here she is, just as she is, and she’s growing his son or daughter. She breathes the same air as he does and shares his lumpy bed.


My friend was so generous to look at the work and suggest gentle changes; I’m very pleased with the results.

If you’re interested in learning more about Jeanne and Modigliani, please read my friend Ruth’s article about the couple.

It was in searching for knowledge on the subject that I first connected with Ruth, who is a poet and mother in the UK. She contributed the “Rose Red” poem in Far Away’s last issue. 

…now, off to read some of the book! xoxo


12 thoughts on “Jeanne, again.

  1. i too want more. i want more mouths open and more hands hungry and more ribs to count. it is alive, this hunger, even if he was already dying, even if we all are.

    the photograph…well…


  2. Beautiful. I hadn’t read it the first time, but this is so real. “Stars will soon form behind his eyes; blood might soon trickle from his mouth and Jeanne will have to watch him die.” Wow, I just love this line. ♥-SWM

  3. I read quite a bit of their daughter’s book last night. It’s very clinical and academic, but there is also quite a bit of sadness purveying through.

"... all my lovers were there with me, all my past and futures."

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