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Corey Marks

10-03-08

Portrait of a Child

 

When I'm ready to think of something else, finally,
I think of wind that runs like a river along a river,
and trees bending into themselves with a will for breaking,
a will to break from the soil and leave the lap of the horsefield
where death has laid its head, its fire-red curls.

I think of the young painter who finds the body of a child,
drowned in the river and cast on stones that rattle
in the white hands of the water.

At first, the painter thinks all the right things.
He thinks of his own infant son.

But then he notices the child's beautiful blue lips
like the blue rim of a bowl, and the wine of its blood
spilled on a stone, and the dark loaves of its closed eyes
resting on the table of its face,

like the meal Christ rises over, sweeping his hands apart
while around the table the Apostles all lean against each other,
whispering, waiting, posing, even, for the thousands of painters
not yet born,

all but Judas, who looks away,
who has already broken the heavy bread and chews the grain,
not thinking of betrayal, of kissing sour wine from Christ's lips,

but of walking in a narrow street and hearing the song
of one bird that flew a hundred miles to rest in a tree
and pull its meal from a tent of worms.

The painter begins a portrait of the boy.
For a long time he stands beside the river, the brushes in a jar
near his hand, the sun turning lower in the sky,

and after a while he doesn't look at the child on the stones
but only at the boy lying in the soft bed of paint,
the dead boy at the end of his brush.

Then the boy by the water wakes
and climbs from the stones to the riverbank.
He walks to the painter and asks him, What are you painting?
You, the painter says, But you're dead.

No, the boy says, That boy is dead,
and he points to the painting.

 

Scale Model of Childhood

 

Who can say what calls me to work

these late hours

by lamplight and magnifying glass?

 

After the ladybug retracts its long,

knife-point wings

beneath its red shell,

 

I use a brush of one hair

to connect the black stars

stippled on its back:

 

Canis Minor,

who licks its teeth,

muzzle still red with Acteon’s blood,

 

Canis Minor,

waiting at the feet of the Twins

for crumbs to fall from their table.

 

In another room,

my parents sleep lightly,

never dreaming,

 

mouths open

as though ready always

to call my name.

 

When my constellation is finished,

I pierce it with a pin,

my little dog,

 

and place it

in a miniature box,

size of my thumbnail,

 

a window for the shoe box diorama

I assemble each night

from tidbits no one will miss.

 

When I was a child

feral dogs ran the woods

beyond our door.

 

Even the hound my father shot

slipped away by morning,

a line of blood pocking the snow.

 

My parents instructed me,

never stray outside.

Nights, my back on the bed

 

and my head tilted back,

I watched stars scroll past

my narrow window’s frame.

 

Once I thought I’d step from childhood

as from a doorway

into a night blazing with stars

 

so numerous

they defied constellation.

I’d stride into the revealed world

 

away from the house

and my parents framed by a window

as they sat at a table

 

holding forks

with no morsels pierced

near parted lips.

 

Pull the lever on the side of the box

and their forks will scrape

empty plates

 

while an unseen dog

howls for its dinner

in an almost human voice.

 

                           -from Renunciation