SELF-PORTRAIT AS AN EGG-TEMPERA ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT FROM 1352
Notice my halo, how the craquelure in the paint doesn’t even diminish the shine. Notice how fun it is to say: craquelure. And it makes even the stoic guy who painted me bite
the inside of his cheek to steady himself when he picks up his gilder’s knife to lay the gold leaf in delicate flakes. Like what you know to be fish food, is what I know of ash from the bottom of a porridge pot.
I live across the fourth pew in a little Spanish church now, but my nose still wrinkles at the memory of chicken and eggshell, how he tapped each yolk into a wooden tray to mix with clay. How he had to paint me so quickly
before the paint dried and toughened into a satin skin across my waist. Of course I fell for him (though my brothers warned me not to) but who could resist those dark eyes the dimple that mouth with the tiny scar
like lightning just under his nose? Six hundred and sixty-three years from now this planet will be granted an extra second. I know I’ll be spending that extra moment still wanting him to come back, apply just one more coat of verdaccio pigment
and quietly tip in another layer of gold leaf on the hems of my robe—just to make sure everyone can see what might have been hidden under toughened paint, and lost all these slow years. [End Page 30]
When I Was a Vampire
In fourth grade, I wanted to be a man. I mean, I wanted to be a vampire for Halloween, and I only knew them as men—like Dracula with much might
and muscle in his neck. I liked the way my friends looked at me when I first swore out loud during a soccer game—the wild-pop of delight and horror when I let loose with it.
My mother didn’t live with us that year. That and always swearing felt like blood in the corner of my mouth. I checked out theatre books from the library to learn
how to shade a sunken cheek and studied biographies of Bela Lugosi. My mother lived nine-hundred miles away that year. I waved a shopping list full of items my poor Indian
father couldn’t find: spirit gum, liquid latex, and fake blood—gelled like jam, I told him. My mother was absent. I wanted to be a vampire. I learned how to powder my brown self white
with poufs of baby powder all the way up to my slicked hairline. Plastic fangs for a dollar. I wore my own crisp, white Oxford, a smear of banana ketchup on the collar. I walked
into school straight as a licorice stick. My mother missed the Halloween parade. When she saw the pictures weeks later, she asked my father how on earth could he do this, let me out
of the house like that? My friends won’t believe me now, but I was so close to being a man. When I wore my fangs and clicked them open, I felt a shiver of blood just under my gums. [End Page 31]
Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of four books of poetry, most recently Oceanic (Copper Canyon, 2018). New work appears in Poetry, Tin House, and American Poetry Review. She lives in Oxford, MS and is professor of English in the MFA program at the University of Mississippi.