Unseen triptych

A poem inspired by Francis Bacon's portrait of Henrietta Moraes

Unseen triptych

Unseen triptych

I come to this portrait cold, knowing nothing
of its subject. I will not Google you for now,
Henrietta Moraes. For me you are this, and nothing
more than this. Your eyes are eye-sockets;
what you see is your business, and you can’t destroy me
with the way you blindly peer at my non-existence.

You are not meat for the chopper.
You are not a woman lying naked on a bed,
knifed by a maniac; you are not a body spilling
grotesque entrails, or a distended body-part
screaming your rage at an un-listening world.
It’s your face I see, your organs are private.

For all I know you could be male, you could be Jesus.
What is it about you that reminds me
of the crucified Christ? Is it the angle of your head,
or the tangled hair descending to your shoulders,
or the hint of beard in those shadows below your chin?
I see suffering in your face, but not because you show it.

You are a detail in the central panel of an unseen triptych.
If I could see you whole, you’d be long and emaciated,
your loins covered, your arms and legs nailed to a cross.
Do you laugh, or do you bare your teeth?
Your cheekbones are the curves of hidden pain.
Your simian features go back through centuries.

I come to you cold, Henrietta Moraes.
You are this, and nothing more than this.

'Henrietta Moraes' by Francis Bacon