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VELASQUEZJUAN DE PAREJA / Colleen J. McElroy The arrogant chin and black diamond eyes telegraph a sense of not belonging anywhere, so I fall in love almost too easily with this 17th century slave courtier. He rules this canvas, the sky behind him caught at the right moment of no gravity and beneath his thick crimped hair, a cape falling reluctantly from his shoulders in a shade of slate too old to fit the colors I know. Even he is unfittingly soft for what life he might have been allowed. He knows Diego paints him for the color, no matter that his Moroccan skin can hide both sorrow and blush. This morning's run with the dogs drew dangerously close to hunting and though he knows a bed of sweet straw better than a cobbled court, he must still do tricks for his meat and grunt to show his pleasure. Just within his range of vision, sketchily a window holds the spires of the Basilica where Cardinal Velasco has threatened to sell him at least a dozen times this winter if the master does not paint royal faces even more regal than they imagined. Today is market day and he tries not to think of being sold again in shackles; the smell of horses thickens the air but the light is right so he sits still for a portrait that will be bought centuries later at a hundred times more the price ever paid for his life. Juan, they are still selling you for millions 16 · The Missouri Review and me for scenery while I stare too long at this painter's dream of reality and illusion. With a face like that of some neighborhood boy I've loved, you seem caught between a delicate sense of light and color however unreal, your smile a scab that has healed for the moment over some wound still raw underneath or the master's choice of venison perhaps, or some error in paint for the royal dwarf, a pigment for your Lady's veil, her throat pulsing at the spur of the moment on yet another canvas where you will never sign your name. But now your only concern is that bitter sweet pose of playing the African gallant, and how to keep your face from growing too handsome in a country where courtyards stink of dog shit and mold and most men have faces like algae. I would wish you out of that Moorish kingdom turned Spanish, pull you from your slave-bound history into my own where you can take your rein and become my cavalier with your all-knowing eyes and urban smile, with your cape spilling in velvet folds, heartsblood red and waiting. Colleen J. McElroy The Missouri Review · 17 ...


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