He wanted to be a painter.
He wanted to paint himself at sixteen,
standing tall on mountain top,
a golden warrior for the helpless,
a beast of burden ready to sacrifice
for tomorrow’s promises.
That’s how he saw himself
when he closed clouding eyes.
Always careful to refuse limitations.
He was ambivalent to skin rubbed raw,
the formation of blisters on hardened heels,
and the weight strapped upon back leaving
marks against white freckled skin.
It took finely sliced transparencies
to etch out the idea that this perception
was self imposed.
Petrified on haunches, he watched
as the reverberation between the hum
drum of reality and the fleeting images of
fancy fabrication left him weak.
The last attempt he made at reclaiming his identity
came in a self portrait:
sprawling crow’s feet and age spots,
so close to his mother’s angry mood
he doesn’t recognize the expression on lips.
A child swallowed inside rib cage
who has been screaming for years.
A man who can’t recognize
lead poisoning seeping into tongue.
He still wants to paint a portrait of life,
a portrayal of desperation and disappointment,
capture howl in brush stroke and oil base,
display the hollow of gut
in strangled sketch and charcoal dust,
portray innocence, youth, freedom
in the colors on canvas.
But the paints have dried,
hardening bristles to stone.
He is merely a man,
too tired to rekindle the
spark long ago abandoned.
He once believed he
could be something magnificent.
“The Painter” is previously published in The Fall of a Sparrow (2014).