- Fragments of the Artist Collected in Her Studio
Acrylic on paper, the one hanging from alligator paperclips above the futon where we sleep. The one she turned down money for: her navy-blue line following the model’s hips, around a thigh before it turns, curves, races where it thins under a knee, and a word or a thousand won’t define the blue, the pose anchored on an elbow stretching across the paper. The figure’s head cut off at the nose, escaping the edge’s limit.
Or the brushstroke twisting, appearing to twist, falling back into darkness and coming forward in light. The paper warps, she gives perspective where there is none, the thickness and variation in the push/pull depth read as a mission, as a purpose.
My floor is a landscape of textbooks open to fine print and tiny color photos; she’s on her stomach and biting a pencil, memorizing artists and paintings and dates. Medieval Art: or death, really. Death on the scale of war—bodies rotting in the streets, stacked one on another. Death running through slums on the air, funerary art delivering this urgent sense of what we have.
Gothic Hands. Books of Hours.
The semiotics of religious painting, not as a puzzle, but a forgotten language of devotion where she finds hope in the illiterate reading an image. [End Page 57]
The Victorians on the northeast side of campus are cut into apartments. Three bedrooms upstairs, a kitchen; four downstairs, a kitchen. Students all together. A basement, her studio. The pock-marked workbench, an easel, and under the pine staircase a threadbare sheet covers a chair. A desk lamp aimed up from the concrete floor casts shadows in the creased valleys.
Cold. A physical discomfort her friends offer, the novelty of it wanes as the chill sets into their nude bodies, pupils pinpoint and aching in the merciless light. She’s grateful, but demanding, and the sore muscles frozen in the pose must suffer.
Two Budweiser bottles, labels scraped under thumbnails, between us in a corner by the window. Next to the railroad outside my apartment, the building’s one room is big enough for a pool table, a bar, and a few chairs. Clarence dominates the pool games. He turned 80 last week and introduces his son Walter as “my boy.” They recognize us I’m sure, but no one here’s all that social; we just grab quick beers and take the table under the neon sign. My shifts at the bus garage end an hour before last call, so this is only a pause before going upstairs together. Across the table I know she’s thinking, but right now she’s not saying a thing.
Through the blinds, the railway station’s empty brick shell sits, box cars blocking the street while the train stages for the switchyard down the hill. Her face, mirrored in the window, is superimposed. And she turns. She looks through the window; I don’t think she sees the train or my reflection, but the tightness around her eyes causes me, too, to look. For a line maybe, following hips and curving around thighs and, racing now, thinning out into the night.
Nothing. Except a knife’s whispering scratch across canvas, smearing viscous paint. Except the brush of hair on cloth. Except sucking filtered breaths through burning Camel Lights. [End Page 58]
The Body: Mine
She watches when I lie down. Like a knocked-out boxer hitting the mattress, arms over my head and pointed toes. Her eyes climb the lines of my ribs. I know I look better on black sheets than white because she tells me. And I stretch, try to pose for just a second then turn, I hope before it’s obvious. She traces a finger down my arm and her finger feels like love.
Bodies contain the world; forms reveal. Too few see the form.
She sketched me only once, I think, before even a first date, when I fell asleep studying on a friend’s couch; she sat at the dining room table. I...