Portrait of a Slave-Owner’s Wife

Light folds around her       yellow-silk

like a pillar-candle

Shadows round her cheek             curve

between lips

press below her nose

On her left

a thickened impasto

of fading paint

and varnish layers obscure shapes and

it’s hard to see a dark boy

in blue

livery bending

brown skin      black hair   without a stroke

of light

to wash over him                 so he remains

vague as a         footnote

in a language

that I barely know

Is he the slave-boy beaten

by her husband?

Brutal is the imagination

seeping through generations

like a sweep of paint      that could

be       a smooth yellow

gown or a puddle

of piss

or  yellow light

from  torches waving       in the night

 

Aileen Bassis is a visual artist in New York City working in book arts, printmaking, photography, and installation. Her artwork can be viewed at www.aileenbassis.com. Her use of text in art led her to explore another creative life as a poet. Her poems have appeared in B o d y Literature, Spillway, Grey Sparrow Journal, Canary, Amoskeag, Stone Canoe, The Pinch Journal, and Pittsburgh Poetry Review. She was awarded an artist residency in poetry to the Atlantic Center for the Arts.