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  • Red
  • Tama Baldwin (bio)


Snow had closed down color for another season, the cold curtaining all the windows with frost. I lay still, allowing myself to be remade between thumb and forefinger, the charcoal line of breast bleeding into rib, rib into the plateau of belly, belly cupped by hips, the cylinders of my legs flattening into the flippers of my feet. I am floating on my back across the canvas, having levitated from the very real hardwood floor of the studio to the very real wall of the gallery, only to have a woman, one of his colleagues, say to me: "I would never let a man paint me like that." "Like what?" I asked. "It's so cold," she said. "There you are so ecstatic, and all he does is douse you in icy blue gouache."

It was true that he was happiest touching me from across the room. He loved most geometric forms that composed my body, the electromagnetic me traveling through space as light. It was true, too, that the colors he chose emphasized the distance between his eye and my body, but I had known this about him right from the start, and I didn't mind. I didn't want whatever it was she thought I should have been on the canvas, whatever it was she thought I should share with a man.


On our first real date we rowed out under a full moon and lingered for hours, drinking wine, reciting half remembered fragments of a Li Po poem about rowing out under a full moon to linger for hours, drinking wine. The poet died, some say, from cirrhosis of the liver caused by toxins in longevity elixirs. The poet died, some say, drowning in a drunken attempt to embrace the reflection of the moon. Those who choose to believe the latter are his truest readers. There was a hole in the sky that night, a portal [End Page 5] through which poured light thirteen hundred years old. We searched the pines on shore for the poet dancing with his shadow.

By midnight the moon had pulled away from us into an observational mode, its klieg light glaring until the whole world seemed overexposed. We drifted in silence for a while, our bodies on opposite ends of the boat. My eyes were closed, my mind lobbing itself toward sleep, when I heard the crush of ash on paper. I opened my eyes to see his hand moving charcoal over a moon-bleached page. This was how he navigated the world: light to eye, eye to hand, hand to line.

Later, on shore again, we kissed for a while—the first real kisses of my life—and then he drove me home, both of us enjoying the silence between us. I remember leaning my head against the coolness of the window, watching the earth roll past, feeling as weightless as an astronaut.

The next day I found tacked to my door his thanks for the night we had shared: a huge red and blue fish painted in the manner of de Kooning. A fish as much color as line, body of water and blood, his papery, paint-heavy length shifting in the breeze of my apartment hallway.


The first assignment of the semester was a nude self-portrait. The image was to be life-sized, a full frontal perspective. This, he had said, would encourage respect for the human form, and would stress the importance of seeing even one's own flesh as a subject—the sort of detachment fundamental to Life Drawing 101.

I sat in his studio watching him pose naked before the mirror. He played Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" over and over, chain smoking unfiltered Camels, drinking bottle after bottle of Rolling Rock. We were chatting about the class, wondering about how each student would confront the task, especially Mr. P. who had entered the fine arts program at the age of 83. The nude self-portrait tended to be a weed out exercise. Those who were not ready to complete it were presumably not ready for the journey of the course. We did not expect Mr...


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