In his final years, illness attended
the artist. His friends brought him flowers
and, in modest works, when free from pain,
he gave them his fullest attention. Each
became a study in concentration
and in the memory of paint: testament
to the moment. One instinctive still life
of that period is of a fat bundle
of asparagus, each stalk fleshily
overfed, ready for the kitchen.
The purchaser paid over the odds,
so Manet, in recompense, sent him
a small oil painting of a single stalk.
‘There was one missing from your bunch.’
Its body, pearly-grey as the belly
of a fish, lies inert on the marble top.
But its purplish tip curves gently up
in the way that a fish, brought to land,
will raise its head and gawp for life
though there is nothing that can save it.