Self-Portrait With A Cigarette: Vlaho Bukovac

The man seated for his portrait
stares out; he does not
move me; saying nothing

yet there is more:
the cigarette sticks proudly
from his lips, gradually
he leans back in his seat
as if leaning on the world
or the world leans against him

it is winter, perhaps; he is dressed
in a thick coat, the room looks cold,
a pillow supports his right arm,
a blanket covers his knees
drapery drools depressingly in the background
light from a window captured in their crevasses
framed and unframed canvas oils sit
stacked against his armchair as if unfinished
as if ignored, as if abandoned and beaten
by the artist. On one the backing tape
peels away; another is wrapped in brown paper
a gift? To or from whom? An unsold piece?

The gallery is small inside. From the outside
you wouldn’t think so; it looks grand,
a colossal baroque-style structure
nibbling at the edge of King Tomislav Square
nearby a Puppet Theatre for children
homeless sleep by the fountain; trams circle endlessly.
Spring roses are in their ephemeral bloom.

I walk out, the man in the portrait
on my mind. I stand at the lights. I think:
Did Bukovac ever stand on this corner?
Did he ever look back at the gallery
he helped create, into which one day
I would walk and see the artist
in his intimate room
and write this poem about him
fascinated by the cigarette
stuck in its holder.

Lincoln Jaques' poetry, fiction and travel pieces have appeared in New Zealand, Australia, the US and Ireland, most recently in Noir Nation (forthcoming), Milly Magazine, 'Mother Mary Comes to Me: A Pop Culture Poetry Anthology' (Madville Publishing), Mayhem, a fine line (NZ Poetry Society), The Blue Nib, Fast Fibres, Shot Glass Journal, Poetry New Zealand Yearbook, and Flash Frontiers. He was a finalist in the '2018 Emerging Poets'.