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Storyville Portrait

ISSUE:  Summer 1985
New Orleans Red Light District, 1912;
a photograph by E.J.Bellocq

She could be anyone: a woman
pinned like a moth to a wall, the face
scratched out, no eyes to read
the fear in, the background stripped,
bare, as if she were cut out
of another context and placed there,
a man’s hand shadowing the negative
in unimaginable rage against himself
and her, staring and staring
at the curving line of the torso,
then scratching out the face
and leaving a ripped black space,

so that suddenly she is no one,
a woman radically effaced.

Her arms, thin wings that cannot
fly, contrive the soul’s survival:
the left, pulled down to waist-
level, hand clutched into a ball,
in counterbalance to the right,
impelled to reach upward
and draw a figure on the wall
small enough to be unnoticeable
until we bend closer and see
with a shock the soul transcribed:
chalk, blurred, a butterfly.


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