Danielle Cadena Deulen
I walked into your studio and you began to invent me, to carve the half-peach of my cheek, to shape the slopes and angles of my nose, decide what tone my voice would take. When you hear me speak, I speak in keys: I ring the low notes of locks. I was already in love with another, but never mind that. Never mind that the night was wet, that she and I had broken our naked sleep to bring you a key for a door you were locked out of, in exchange for a turquoise girl: a painting that didn’t sell. I want to go on, but my voice wasn’t made to bend into past tense, unless to say I was nothing before you. Even daylight has permission to love what it wants, but you didn’t carve daylight. So, I suppose this is the exchange: I live and you love me. I must be loved. I must contain it quietly like a vessel, even if my lip is sharp and means to cut you. Even if I still dream of her tying the boxed painting to the roof of her car, riding home beneath a break in clouds, unwrapping me on her bedroom floor. So, here I am now: blanched clean and silent for you, a colorless muse. I know what you’re thinking: I’ve confused the stories. I was never the turquoise girl—my body always an uncut key inside a bundle of ivory. And when my lover left your studio, she left without me. I lay there untouched, raw in the dim light, in a mess of paint and tarps and felt your fingers fold around the cold bone that would become my left thigh, let your sharp eyes wait until something in me made something in you unlock.
Danielle Cadena Deulen
1. words aren’t my business, baby. i deal in images. my dreams aren’t even stories, more like long dusty-going-nowhere road from above, swing down over it, fast forward into dusk and a dead end. you’re in blue light. i ask what’s wrong. an owl lands on your shoulder so i walk up but not too close: i know it bites. pan left and down to the card in your hand. now the card in the dirt. it’s number thirteen, picture of a skeleton with a sword. pan up to your face, blurred like watercolor. don’t mean to make you feel bad, it’s just the way i see. maybe you can’t see it cause your gig is with words. you can argue all you want about which art is higher, but an image translates itself. no sexless bald guy in tweed and glasses fucking up the phrasing. take that photo of us on a break during the first shoot. anyone who sees it says damn i know how things are gonna go. i’m over your left shoulder, out-of-focus, smoking, looking at you through the smoke. your head is tossed back, your mouth open. you’re holding up a skinny glass in center frame like you’re giving some hilarious toast, laughing your pretty head off for a bunch of invisible people and i’ve got this look like what’s so goddamned funny? 2. don’t even try to revise us. what happened was real and you know it. you can’t thumb past me like some encyclopedia entry: “pygmalion: a guy in new york i used to hang with until he got obsessed and i had to lose his number.” yeah. there’s a dust storm outside been ripping names right out of people’s minds. maybe you think you can wrap a few myths in your degree so i won’t get what you’re saying. well, i can call you galatea if you want, but she never had it so good. surprised? i have another shocker: i did another portrait of you. this one’s invisible. except to people who can to paint. like poetry. oh, don’t worry, i’m writing an essay on what it looks like to me. i’ll publish it in some obscure journal online. i already put the painting in your room, over your bed so it can watch you sleep. it’s interactive. it changes positions when you do. so it changes a lot. i had to get it out of my house cause it kept asking me who i was. said it knew my face from bad dreams. my shape was familiar but colors all wrong. said i should put on a black shirt or build a fire in the yard, then it could know for sure. you want me to be your villain, baby? you want me to tie you to the railroad tracks? i’m not the one who put you out in the rain. i’ve been calling you home from day one. 3. fuck its 5:48 am i wish i could sleep. just ate a cupcake and drank some water. a number lit up on my phone, thought it was you so i called it back, wasn’t you. i wonder if your account is bust and this is some dude i’m spilling my guts to. i’m so screwed. god you know that effect when you cry in front of someone and they just blink. that’s it: blink. fucking sun is going to come up soon. i need a prescription of ambien, or something that will keep me from pouring my mind (tall glass pitcher, mind-ice-tea). i forget the cause and effect of things, what part was mine. i need to know if you’re ok. or if i should bury my keyboard, phone, address, and rather poor skill of telepathy, erase myself from those bad dreams you’re having. black shirt off. heh. i wrote a few drafts of letters & saw a thread through them: (black thread from the corner of the shirt you pulled until—no that was someone else. i don’t know the color of your voice anymore. it used to be red like the roses i sent and you sent back) i never asked what you wanted. i didn’t want the truth or even to consider it. i wrote that i know and am ashamed of these things now. in one draft i told you how i memorized all of the items in your room. in another i told you i’ve been diagnosed with something that makes me hold onto pieces because it scares me too much to let them go. in one draft i said everything you said about me was true, but erased it because i was afraid that would make it true. on one page i listed dark reasons you said i wouldn’t love you, then i wrote darker reasons why you’d never love me. my list was longer. i tried to tell you how sweets taste sweeter at sunrise. but the last lines were always the same: i know you think i tried to sculpt you into something you weren’t, but to me, the real you was the one i loved and the art just a reflection of that ideal. 4. light bulbs have a hard time with me—been blowing out when i walk by. occasionally streetlights do it too, but flicker back after i’ve passed. this bothers me. if only I knew how to harness this, it would be a new way to impress, or at least a good trick when small-talk starts its decent for the runway. as far as feelings go, just pretend your whistling and you'll do fine. i really don't have anything further to say ‘cause it doesn’t matter anymore. i used the energy already. it's done. you can see the entire show, minus a few paintings, at the detroit metro airport—they bought 9. so i guess i should say thanks for the inspiration (usually staring out an airplane window is just only that). most people at the show thought it was about a vacation (insert laugh track). the first painting to sell was the red blur off the taxi-light in the rain, then the one of you riding down the metro elevator, and so on. funny, a lady deciphered the order and what it was about, but she was the only one. the paintings were titled one to fourteen. cool how no one got an explanation, so everyone created elaborate concepts. i like how you put the stuff that went down between us. it's so unaccountable it fascinates me. if i were younger i would write a book or a movie, cause it's good stuff, especially from my p.o.v. (man the scene alone in front of the White House was beautiful). i don't think it’ll change anything to reiterate how funny perspectives are. nor do i feel i’m going to create equilibrium with you. i know when you pull the light switch trick there are only two ways of looking at things: on or off.
About the Author
Danielle Cadena Deulen is a poet, essayist, and podcast host. She is the author of three books and a chapbook: Our Emotions Get Carried Away Beyond Us, which won the Barrow Street Book Contest, American Libretto, which won the Sow’s Ear Chapbook Contest; The Riots, which won the AWP Prize in Creative Nonfiction and the GLCA New Writers Award; and Lovely Asunder, which won the Miller Williams Arkansas Poetry Prize and the Utah Book Award. Her honors include an Oregon Literary Fellowship, an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, and a Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellowship from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is co-creator and host of “Lit from the Basement,” a literary podcast and radio show. She is an assistant professor for the graduate creative writing program at Georgia State University in Atlanta. You can find out more at the author’s website.