The Painter

Katrina Kaye

He used to be a painter.

He painted portraits of wildflowers
embedded inside strands
of blonde hair as he walked
with nymphs in ripening fields.

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.

Always careful to refuse limitations.

He wants to paint himself at sixteen,
crawling on bleeding knees
too skinned to scab,
because that’s how he sees himself
when he closes clouding eyes.

It took finely sliced transparencies
to etch out the idea
that these marks of burden were self imposed.

He sat petrified on haunches and watched
as the reverberation between the hum
drum of reality and the fleeting images of
creative success left him helpless.

The last attempt he made at reclaiming himself
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.

There is a child swallowed inside rib cage
who has been screaming for years.

He has become a man who can’t recognize
lead poisoning seeping into tongue.

He used to be a painter.

He still wants to paint a portrait of death,
a portrait of desperation,
capture howl in brush stroke and oil base,

display the hollow of gut
in strangle sketch and charcoal dust,
portray innocence, youth, freedom
in the eyes of the man. He once believed he
could be something magnificent.

The paints have dried,
hardening bristles to stone.
He is merely a man,
too tired to rekindle the
spark long ago abandoned.

“The Painter” is previously published in The Fall of a Sparrow (2014).