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Ellen June Wright


Servant Class


(after Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1863, Oil on Canvas)


I wonder about the hidden life of Olympia's

               maid and all she’s seen: men coming


and going each one thinking he is especially satisfying,

               somehow unique. One has fallen in love, one mercifully


creates a fiction about where he has been before arriving

               home to his wife and children, and another


paints her portrait as foreplay. And in between, Olympia's

               maid noir moves about the room changing


sheets, placing towels near a basin and ewer,

               helping her alabaster mistress prepare


for one monsieur after another, even fitting

               a new flower, each time, behind Olympia's ear.

Dream Logic With Laure

(after Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1863, Oil on Canvas)

I’m walking narrow streets in an unfamiliar section of Paris though my feet can’t feel the ground / The city is foreign to me / I don't belong here but recognize where I am from photos / This is where you lived, if only for a time / Where you retreated to on days off from minding children / where you retreated to when your back was stiff and your hips ached from standing bent for hours as Manet worked Olympia / And after the painting didn't sell and the artist sulked and had no more use for his très belle négresse / he passed you on to another / I've reached my destination: 11, rue de Vintimille / I look up / You’re on the 3rd floor / I push the door open and begin to climb the stairs.

Ellen June Wright is an American poet with British and Caribbean roots. Her work has been published in Plume, Tar River, Missouri Review, Verse Daily, Gulf Stream, Solstice, Louisiana Literature, Leon Literary Review, North American Review, Prelude and Gulf Coast, and is forthcoming in the Cimarron Review. She’s a Cave Canem and Hurston/Wright alumna and has received Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominations.

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