Tessa, This Is The Song Of The Dog


Edgar Degas, Cafe Concert: The Song Of The Dog

He liked to catch his subject unawares.
Like nudes bent on washing themselves
and ballerinas in the waiting room
and cafe singers after dark. As
unromanticised a portrayal as one
would come across. An artist, he set
the bar pretty high.

The cafe singer in a yellow dress
and black choker was a satire. Just look
at the title–Song Of The Dog–hands
like paws! Uncompromising, into the world
he poured a kind of disdain. First restrained
in colors then heightening palette to
vivid pastels.

Imagine this was anti-religious Russia
so the singer Sylvia could not sing of
God or Lord or Christ or Jesus.
What would ooze out in song?
She sang, “Rise and shine, and give
Dog the glory! Glory! Rise and shine!
Give Dog the glory!”

What? Have you taken a liking to paws,
Sylvia? Has Degas degraded you?
She wiped ber brow, that honorable woman,
saying, I’m not sore either. What is
d-o-g but God spelled backward?
That said, poured herself some vodka
like one who’s landed on all paws.


Prompt: So I’ve watched a Youtube documentary on French Impressionist artist, Edgar Degas. And I was reading Langston Hughes’s biography, I Wonder As I Wander, and he’s wandered to Russia to work on a movie about Blacks in America and this subject came up about a Black spiritual singer called Sylvia and she was the singer in the movie singing spirituals like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”. Anyhow in stanza three above, this was what she came up with, when she was faced with an actual Russian conundrum. I thought I’d like to link that to Edgar’s painting by virtue of the painting’s title, and so I did. So the prompt is to think about a strange pairing in a poem.


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