Now You're An Animal
I'd expected to sit for my portrait
in the photographer's studio--
chilly morning, fierce April wind on Sixth
slicing through my jacket and sweater,
new blur of the trees overhead--
but at the loft, a huge roll of white paper
hung from the ceiling, blocking a wall of windows;
he hande me a bucket of black paint
and brushes and said, Now, how would you
like to represent yourself? I wasn't ready
for that. It wasn't noon, I'd hurried across
the city, and didn't feel awake to the task
of metaphor. Then we were talking, easy, about
what others had done--he photographed painters,
actors, whoever he liked in the arts--
and how dancers often leapt before the white field
he'd offered them. And I said,
I've always wanted antlers, and began to paint
high on the big page black reindeer horns,
in thick strokes, the paint dripping nicely,
and when finished I could stand
beneath them and the serious, branching
architecture seemed to spring from my head.
He stood at the other end of the room,
framing he upside down in his lens. He said,
That's wonderful, what do you want to wear?
I didn't know. He said, Take off your shirt,
and I did, and he said, Now you're an animal!
I ripped open the buttons of my jeans
so as to be a lustful beast, and he cried,
Yes, that's it! And though it was a joke
still I was seized by a sort of heat;
I took deep breaths, tilted my head up,
stood in the center of my own authority
while he lifted sheets of film and pushed
others in again, and clicked the lens.
He said, That's good, what else? I don't know
how else to do it unless you're naked.
And I said, I'm okay with that, and without
even my watch or ring, only the arching
crown tangling high into the air above me,
I felt the up-pushing pulse of some originating flame.
I thought, This is the relation between narrative
and lyric: one minute you're on 23rd Street
trying to find an address, and the next
you're naked under a wet crown of horns.
That's how fast we slip into the underlife.
Later, out in the daylight, I thought,
What if my students see this picture?
or the Dean of Liberal Arts?--but only
after I'd walked back out into
the elevator and the lobby, onto the sidewalk
with an odd warmth banked inside me,
creaturely: the undertime, beneath
the new haze of trees overhead,
bud time, the sharp spring wind
equal parts ice and green. What is lyric?
I wanted the animal seen
that I might know him. Even
waiting at the blustery intersections,
I was warmed by the incipient leaves,
and I held the antlers high in the wind,
their heart radiating down into my face,
and on the street a few men knew what I wished:
that my plain clothes hid hooves and haunches.
--from School of the Arts