Danielle Nicole Byington
I model for the artist, my hair unwashed,
His brush massaging it with exaggerated grime,
An anxious texture to intimidate gallery gaze.
The hours slowly falling behind the scene
Begin to bear streams of cluttered-sunset hues that
The portrait cradles behind my body.
I pose in a corn stalk row,
The background going on forever
Like a hotel hallway.
Worms fumbling for their key
Mate on the dangling silk,
Leaving larvae that browns the artist’s canvas.
His paintbrush phantomizes a Native American
Sprawled on her stomach,
Elbows perching her interested head
Above a Shakespeare text, her Anglo-painted eyes
Looking at me as if I know what I’m doing.
My arm falls asleep leaning on the hoe,
My fingers shaking from clutching the corncob pipe,
And in his intermissions I smoke it,
Chasing the tobacco with
Bourbon I stashed in the set;
I pass the flask to Anoki.
She squints when she swallows,
And drops of the power
Spill from her lips,
Blurring orbs of words in Hamlet —
As if she needed those anyways.
His strokes dress me in an American flag
Cinched on one shoulder like a toga,
Compounding intellect and freedom,
Assuming I can cook and reproduce.
He chooses chosen colors for my pallor,
And lightens my hair to imply tradition.
Standing so long, I burrow my toes in the soil,
Kicking back at a sharpness.
He instructs me to be still,
And my toes gently bleed on something beneath the canvas.
He waves his hand and paintbrush in shock,
Cursing the corn as if it has ears.
I look back;
Crimson runs up the stalks to the tips of their limp leaves,
Dripping on the ground with a tribal patter.
Anoki shuts her Shakespeare book,
Standing to approach me, relieving my arm of the hoe,
Placing a hand on my shoulder,
Untying the toga.
She swings the hoe with a broad stroke,
Brushing my neck and chest with the tool,
Its heavy, metallic head collapsing into the dirt.
I want to clutch the wound, but she reaches first,
Her warm, brown hands catching my blood,
Her eyes looking for something inside me.
Disabling my portraiture, she finds it;
I know because her lips part,
The reward of critical gaze painted on her face,
And she says, . . . that is the question.
DANIELLE NICOLE BYINGTON‘s work can be seen in The Camel Saloon, Black Mirror Magazine, Right Hand Pointing, and Rust + Moth. In pursuing her English-MA, Danielle’s academic work focuses on the boundary between creative writing and literature, such as appropriation and ekphrasis. Danielle enjoys life with her three cats and Shakespearean better half.