When the painter said, OK, you guys,
take off your clothes! I startled at the plural,
assuming I'd been engaged to model by myself.
But then the dark-skinned god I knew as Aaron
from my Econ class unzipped his jeans,
and dropped them, grinning, on the floor.
So I did, too, and clambered up beside him
on the plywood box that elevated us above
the clutch of paint-stained easels. Thoughtfully,
the students posed our naked bodies. Someone fluffed
the crispy hair between my legs into a dark brown
bristling fan. And someone pinched the sides
of Aaron's face to pinken up his cheeks.
Privately, I installed myself inside that mental space
where I had hidden as a child when the world
could be aborted no other way ...
It was part of my plan to walk unclothed
among the portraits my unclad body
had provoked. So when we broke
for lunch, the students lunging in a herd
out back to smoke, I did. If you had asked me
then why I modeled, I'd have said,
to overcome my bourgeois insecurities,
to combat my fear of what might happen
if I showed myself completely naked
to someone else. But if you asked me now?
I'd describe the privilege of walking among
A museum of strangers' images devoted to oneself,
and tell you what a privilege it was to see myself
the varied ways that others did.
Some silly fellow had painted nipples on me the size
and shape of frying eggs. Another jokester
had shrunk them down as small as M&Ms.
But someone serious and sad had shared a vision
of my head as a clotted orb of hair and mouth,
and brushed in underneath, a body headless
as the horseman in the myth. Then I seemed
to walk into the darkroom of my mind's own eye
and saw the self I'd always felt inside but never known:
a complicated, unsmiling creature with a fear-tinged face.
Around her the aura of something golden was fighting
with whip-like straps of something black. She was staring
straight into the future, trying to get out, trying
to conceal her fear, completely unaware
of how it glistened and glowed, and of how
irresistible it was for the artist to spread it
across the canvas so that everyone could see.