Grace Cavalieri

Rilke and Rodin in Paris


What can a 26 year-old writer

who can barely speak French—

and a 60-year old sculptor

who only speaks German—

talk about?


What truth did they hold together

that mattered to no one

other than themselves?


What moral arguments did they confront?

the one with the muscular hands—

the one with the lyrical mind—


What human sentiments could possibly appeal

across their cultures?


Perhaps something they had in common

was the beautiful Camille Claudel

who lived in Rodin’s studio.


Surely she sat outside their lives

as she stretched naked

posing for Rodin.


Perhaps to thwart the cold,

she shifted her body from side to side,

catching Rilke’s eye before he turned away.


Oh poor Claudel staving the drafts

shivering on her bed hour after hour

while the purposeful Rodin

fulfilled his intentions.


Rilke, no longer able

to ignore the apparition, walks across

to rub her white legs and press her hands

in confidence.


She looks at him with measured appetite

maybe sorrow

and something else like translucence.


Tomorrow, perhaps he’ll bring her

flowers—become a cultural

companion, perhaps bide his  time

for a sip of wine.


Claudel is among Rodin’s many successes—

in fact, she formed so many pieces

he liked, they became

different versions of his own.


And that’s why Rodin carved his own name

on the bottom of the white cast clay

made by Claudel.


We cannot prove a

crise de nerfs nor how a mind

unlike our own

feels to have her work stolen.


Maybe she wondered what to do.

Maybe her thoughts were of

unimaginable blood thirsts.


But one sunny day when Auguste Rodin was away

surely she lay beside Rainer Maria Rilke

with determination and not just

a little talent,


for they somehow shared a belief that something

inside themselves could not be taken away

and thus Rodin’s mistress


became Rilke’s lover. Claudel climbed into the

big bed in the middle

of the world. And that was her revenge.


Did you think Love comes from nothing?


Grace Cavalieri’s newest publication is a chapbook, Gotta Go Now (Casa Menendez, 2012). She’s the author of 16 books and chapbooks of poetry, as well as 28 produced plays, short-form and full-length. Her recent books—Millie’s Tiki Villas, Sounds Like Something I Would Say, and Anna Nicole: Poems—are on Kindle’s free lending library. For 35 years, Grace has produced and hosted “The Poet and the Poem” on public radio, recorded at the Library of Congress and transmitted nationally via NPR and Pacifica. She is the poetry columnist for The Washington Independent Review of Books. Her play “Anna Nicole: Blonde Glory” opened in NYC in 2011. Her play “Quilting the Sun” opened in S.C. in 2011.



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