Interior at Nice

by Andrew Motion

Henri Matisse, 1919 or 1920

When I came up from the world below,
from the heat and glare, from white dust
thickening the air with its pelt of atoms,
I found the shutters to your room closed
and for a dreaming moment paused there.
It was the submarine green of the wood
and parching crackle of the glaze. It was
spider-web cauls embalming the hinges,
and the shrivelled corpses of their victims
shaking slightly in such breeze as blew.
It was zebra light-bars crashing silently
onto the purple carpet with its diamonds.
But then that passed. I pulled or someone
pulled the shutters open. There you were.


Just as I had always hoped, it turned out
you had been waiting for me all your life.
In the end it proved to be perfectly simple.
You had put on your plainest ivory frock,
American stockings you knew I would like,
shiny court shoes, and taken a black chair,
the one with dainty legs splayed outwards
so it seemed about to collapse at any moment
even beneath a weightless weight like yours,
crossed your own legs and folded your arms,
then let the tide come in and out behind you
and the soporific waves repeat themselves
until such time as I appeared to you, or you
to me, since I have also been here all my life.


Now we have the rest of our lives to complete
let me at least begin with everything in place:
the vase of blue and crimson flowers you set
off-centre on the dowdy tablecloth (their name
will come to me . . . their name will come to me);
the wallpaper where golden boughs or golden
branches shoot and spread as lavishly as green;
the larger, squat and wide-armed yellow chair
I seem in my inspection to have climbed above,
weightless as I said you were but whereas you
stay fixed on your veranda as I found you, I am
halfway to the ceiling and might soon be gone
for good, except for your fixed gaze and mine
which endlessly returns attention back to you.