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documentary

 

a camera emerges 

from the palms

and conquers

its subject

 

no, not subject

object

 

another object

colonized

the dead girl artist’s scientific method

have you ever read 

an artist statement

written by a cadaver?

imagine the photographer typing in her coffin

    oh, you thought it was a man?

no, this dead artist is a woman

    some might call her a girl

    she is still willowy

        not yet 30.

        never pregnant,

            free from the scars

            that “make” a “woman”

    actually, was

    past tense

    she’s just a buried body now

 

camera mechanics do not intoxicate me

but they enable me to 

paint with light.

    here in the darkness, I crave light

    in life, I ate too many worms, 

too much dirt.

    all because he didn’t love me

    i shouldn’t have cared

    who was he but a ghostly distraction?

    a skeletal character too mysterious 

        for me to add flesh

    you must know a soul

        to love it.

 

i photographed my sallow self before sunset

    these were not expressionistic portraits

    these were scientific documents,

        photos for the lab and the archives

 

maybe a microscope could tell me

    why he did not love me

I would crack the lens to find out

 

was it my curly hair?

    did he long for straight?

was it my mayan nose?

    did he want a ski slope?

was it my ripe olive tone?

    did he prefer peaches and cream?

 

obsession does not make for 

clear thinking

and my mind had always been

crystal.

i should’ve abandoned my lab coat

there are softer things to wear

why live with coarse fabrics?

life is coarse enough

 

i probed too hard with my camera

    he doesn’t love you

i stabbed myself with my tripod

    he doesn’t love you

i knocked myself out with studio lights

    he doesn’t love you

 

an encouraging friend might say:

 

at least these unrequited affections

    taught you photography

    and now you can write 

grant proposals from the grave

 

is that a nobler use of eternity 

than pushing up daisies?

turning rejection and loneliness 

into art?

 

now that I am dead,

    my paranoia has died, too

        he never loved me because

        he never knew me.

no lab results necessary

daughter behind the lens

 

cameras lined the shelves like trophies

and press clippings hung on 

his wood panel walls instead 

of our family photos

 

the ghosts of success

the stink of pine

 

sunday mornings

doused in light and dew

i would worship his name

from the carpeted floor

 

stiff were the stains

stiff were my legs

 

my dolls baked like 

my mother

they shopped like 

my mother

 

they busied themselves

busy little women

 

barbies only ever owned 

a point-and-shoot

for photo albums

never seen beyond home

 

their creations 

were not

baptized creations

 

you are the professional

mama told papa

you are the professional

 

i made my own photo albums

mummified them 

in butterfly stickers

 

but weren’t those photo albums

just like barbie’s?

pretty pretty pretty

papa’s photos were 

never pretty

 

was i allowed to be like papa?

asking scared me

 

i touched papa’s 

cameras in secret

the way you steal 

a stroke of the altar

unrequited pixels

 

the weight of a camera

feeds my hungry hands

i can feel the lens breathe

and the shutter beat

like a prudent heart

 

photography is slow 

to love me

but my love races

through valleys

and up mountains

to golden vistas

 

pining is my pace

my philosophy

i wake up in love

i fall asleep in love

and i shoot in love

 

my memory card

carries portraits

and landscapes

from my soul

to the world

 

i do not take photos

i give them

as i always give

in love

recuerdos

 

mama has no photographs

of her life

from before

she says her mind is

a wicked camera

high school photographer

 

playtime is soul food

for the teenage heart

 

portraits of rebellion

are requisite art projects

 

youth is fleeting

like photography

 

hold the camera

same as a cigarette

portraits of friends

 

humans make contracts 

with other humans

but we are animals

who also devour

contracts and spit 

them in the woods

 

paper pulp

carpets the soil

like moss

 

forget honor

forget clauses

forget policies

 

signatures are invalid

with beasts

roaming the land

 

i hold up the camera

and beckon you

to smile

but you can bare

your teeth

any way you choose

the story of a disappeared photo

 

when mama was 20 years old

papa took a photo of her

on a coffee plantation 

 

but i never saw it

 

the photo was just

another ghost

photo sniffing

 

my camera seeks

crooked teeth

chapped lips

capillaries 

 

humans are

more photogenic

than cyborgs

maker

 

i envelop toys and trash

with clay

spinning cocoons

from found objects

then i take up

camera and tripod

and march into battle

 

the battle for moments

the battle for magic

 

what stories will

i make today?

 

plant a flag

and capture

the narrative

 

drama can be small

tiny even

tiny as a spider’s eye

 

i take after insects

and arachnids

i am the hive

the hill

the web

 

the lens

is my soul

and my exoskeleton

bfa

 

the tapping of pencils

in the great hall

drums out all serenity

from the brain

 

think about your 

future

my camera is my heart

think about your 

life

my camera is my soul

    but you have a stomach

    feed your stomach

 

the relentless grip of 

societal expectations

could shatter 

the skull

 

i filled out that green 

index card

and wrote ‘photography’ 

on the long black line

 

my major decision was 

not so major

    right?

 

the lens obsessed 

do not choose

medicine or law

business will not do

dentistry is a cavity

in an artist’s heart

 

we choose the path

that could kill us

pull the trigger

    and bang! 

goes the camera

 

ready, set, 

    shoot

 

four years and 

    a diploma

four years and

    a portfolio

four years and

    nobody knows

    what is next

millennial debt

 

papa studied at the top 

photography school in the country

when tuition was $4,000 a year

 

but a bfa costs more

than that now

blue lust

 

i would photograph 

a field full of indigo

if i knew where to find one

banana republic

 

central america

reagan in a new role

cameras everywhere

yet so much unseen

 

papa kissed izalco

but he wouldn’t tell

 

secrets lost in

obsolete broadcast

technology

 

my secrets are digital

camera for company

 

do not bring cameras to parties

people want freedom in 

their tomfoolery

 

speaking of toms

peeping toms are

never popular

 

cameras are for 

weirdos

shutterbugs are 

weirdos

 

freshman fifteen

is not a shutter speed

play with your lenses

in your dorm room

 

you have the same date

every saturday

photography wears

a red dress

mothering

 

mama says

that learning photography

could be a useful skill

to teach my children

one day

womb/eye

 

the darkroom was 

my red home

my red body

my red dreams

 

crimson water is

a window

and a door

 

make a picture

make a life

 

the dorm felt too blue

my eyes were set 

for low light

 

never take a picture

give a picture

 

this freshman found

refuge in art

 

beauty is the 

perfect sweater

even when it 

begins to pill

 

beauty is 

solitude in

the darkroom

 

parties are imperfect

but you can perfect

a photograph

 

i became the camera eye

and curled up 

in portfolios

 

i became contact sheets

taped to the wall

i became that image

that burns

his grasp

 

when he seized my camera

his tongue tore my throat

and my lens cracked

 

snap a line

snap a life

glass cuts us all

 

professor dearest

my photos are a poor image

filled with noise

more noise than

my body can muster

 

soft hums beneath 

the crushing weight

of film canisters

 

or is it grain?

the grain is insane

 

let’s make a movie

we have a flair for trauma

our ghosts will line up

for the picture show

 

violence is noise

violence is grain

 

i have loved cinema

since girlhood

almost as much as

i thought i loved you

 

don’t touch me

this camera is mine

i can frame a portrait

i am the portrait

the portrait is me

a model model

 

my back arches

my shoulders drop

my tongue saddles

    the roof of my mouth

posed

poised

    i am pleasure

    i am spectacle

 

nude photos pay for college

cleavage for a textbook

    nipples erect

    tripod erect

the camera devours me

 

in the computer lab

i feast on pixels

square by square

i disappear

    wrinkles

    freckles

    moles

    flabs

gone

 

my mind remains

it always remains

even if only 

i see it

unwritten job description

 

women are photo editors

they edit work by the masters

women do not shoot

because cameras are guns

and we cannot have girls

playing with guns

exhibit

 

white walls cracked

in strange places

from hammers

and nails 

unknown

 

behold

the vacuum

behold

the cave

 

i am here to revive you

so breathe

 

whispers grow into

endless echoes

fail

failure

fail now

fail forever

failure incarnate

 

the gallery haunts 

and taunts me

 

my studio cowers

and my inner child

weeps from 

the floor

 

all i have to do

is build a kingdom

by myself

heaven is a photograph

 

i am never victorious

except behind the camera

and even then i pray

   the atheist who turns

   her eyes toward god

resume terror

 

art school broke my heart

a heart that shattered

and became dust

that blew away 

in the wind

 

am i the heart?

am i the shards?

am i the dust?

am i the wind?

 

am i…

am i…

am i…

 

am i what 

the job description

demands?

 

art school never taught me

how to write a resume

 

art school never taught me

how to assemble

a corporate portfolio

only a curiosity cabinet

of strange images

open this door

open this drawer

look

see

i made this

 

and now i have to craft myself

into someone marketable

or something marketable

marketability is not human

 

i shouldn’t put down art modeling

if i put it down

they will put it down

 

nobody needs to know

how i made money

only that i need money

hence the job application

 

the pRoFeSsIoNaL website

so ~professional~

look

see

i made this

i did

thanks to 

many youtube tutorials

 

the resume

forget it

such a stretch

it’s rubber

 

the cover letter

rambling

more than a tumbleweed

 

then the job application form

wow

wow

how is this life?

 

‘summarize your experience’

 

artist since birth

never by choice

no, artist by force

artist by circumstance

 

or maybe better

creator out of stubbornness 

maker out of necessity 

 

i don’t know if you care

about my experience

but i can take (and give)

photographs

 

‘name your top skills’

 

see previous

 

‘list 5 words that describe you’

 

1. timid

2. secretive

3. yearning

4. resourceful

5. imaginative

 

submit

yeah

i’ve done that before

i’d rather not again

 

www.

 

my father says he does not need

a website

because people know him 

on reputation alone

 

i cannot pay $300 a year

for the portfolio builder

an alum from my program

recommended at a panel

 

He had his own studio

and drank coconut water

 

He had a website, too

waiting like a virgin

 

i take photos

invisible to all but me

and maybe my laptop

 

if my laptop is a sentient being

i hope the photos

make him feel

or her feel

or them feel

 

i do not know my laptop’s 

preferred pronoun

 

i only know that no human

has seen my photographs

for centuries

 

no eyes touch them

so they remain pure

or some christian bullshit

 

i am not pure

i have seen

i keep seeing

i want to see

 

i rot from waiting

 

come see

please see

see me

how to see

 

my instagram followers don’t miss me

they drop off 

one by one

because i stopped posting my soul

 

even when i posted my soul

they looked

but i’m not convinced they saw

 

and a photographer needs

eyes that see

their own eyes

and the eyes of others

especially the eyes that

know how to see

a gift i guess

 

when i graduated from art school

my father gave me a photograph

one of his photographs

a photograph from the war

 

but i never hung it on the wall

 

papa, i will hang up my own

photograph on the wall

war

 

when papa photographed death

he sought out despair

 

i want to photograph

the hope that 

refuses death

interview attack

 

hopeless is the girl on her bed

holding her camera

instead of a pillow

 

hopeless is the girl on her bed

too anxious to take

a single photograph

the camera falls asleep

the sd card falls asleep

the girl does not

anxiety is a thief

 

hopeless is the girl on her bed

wondering how much

she can get for her ratty thongs

on pantydeal.com

her panties are worth 

more than

her photographs

the internet is a thief

 

i am the girl on the bed

or i was

 

then a weekly newspaper editor called me

and asked

if i had 

chased ambulances before

when i said no

he asked

would you?

i said it depended on how fast

the ambulance was going

then he told me i took good photos

but was everything staged?

i said mostly

i like building my own theaters

he said 

journalism is not staged

so there will be no more staging

if i hire you

i said

i still set the frame

and he was quiet

his first pause

before he asked

if i would come to the office

next week

i said i wouldn’t mind

 

and i tried not to sound excited

 

excitement became panic

over the course of one slow week

 

and i wondered if my camera could feel

how hard my heart 

beat everyday

as i stayed in bed

not going to the studio

or the gallery

or anywhere at all

 

i had my portfolio printed in a binder

i had my slim laptop in my bag

my portfolio already pulled up

i had them on me as i walked 

into the newspaper office

 

i don’t remember the interview

only the dizziness

the daze and haze

of repeating a script

and hoping my photos

could speak better than i could

 

and then i remember getting the job

 

and i stopped rotting away in my bed

girl with job

 

clock in

clock out

there’s a lot i left out

just know i brought my camera

everywhere

across land and sea

framing photos for pages

framing photos for the ages

employable/lovable

 

papa called me to congratulate me

after mama told him i got the job

 

when i got angry at mama

she didn’t understand

 

but you’re a photographer now

she said

 

i was always a photographer

i said

 

but now you’re a professional

you have a career

something to do until you

find a husband

 

i said

i love my camera

and hung up the phone

the undead

 

journalists are zombies

 

i eat the brains of sources

and take stills from 

their memories

never 9-to-5

 

sometimes i still see

his body

over my body

 

trauma has no

time card

 

i didn’t have a camera

then

but my memory is

photographic

 

 

it’s a burden i carry

like gear on the job

mfa admissions

 

anguish

apply

wait

receive

review

weigh

accept