I hold the postcard in my hand. Pots of pigment in a South American market array on a worn blanket spread on hard ground. Vessels of intensity.
And I think of you, how I might paint who we were.
Carmine, the red of crushed cochineal insects. Yellow, like purree, the pigment made from urine of India’s cattle starved on mango leaves. Lapis lazuli blue, a mineral inlaid into Tutankhamun’s funeral mask. White of powdered chalk, a void of colour. Black of charcoal, burned matter.
Pigment cupped for protection or to prevent escape.
* * *
I see us as the painting begins, take up a pencil, its sides rough against my fingers, its point blunt.
Emerald burns with jealousy. Gold turns to sulphur. Ruby catches fire. Essences lose distinction when blended, fade when diluted and bleed when they run. Canvas is a material for display or cover.
I sketch, rough and hurried with lines crossing yet unconnected – the edges of us are yet to be determined. We can’t get enough of one another. Flesh is electric. Lightning and storm. A thicker brush mixes the paint, creates tone. This is for the underpainting. The part that lies beneath what comes next. We move in together.
Calm. An image. The beach, water sky blue. My head is resting on the warmth of your belly, feeling it rise with your breath. The sun is like the hands of a healer over us. I am your life, you say. And your life is mine.
The painting evolves. I lay a wash of yellow’s harmony over the canvas but the rushed lines of us push through, jar against the soft glow, against my hand that directs the brush to fill in the lines and round out edges. I try to paint a memory of comfort in our world but elements unbidden emerge and interject into the scene I am creating. Darker hues insert themselves. Lines thicken and harden. Edges fall down cliffs.
Random script, a cacography that’s hard to read, appears in the corners of the canvas. Questions. Small things. What time did you come home from the office? Who did you eat lunch with? Where are you going? At first, bright – jokey, like your face.
You code your words but I’m learning.
I want us to be together more, you say.
Dove becomes cloud, and silver, slate. Your shape reveals in small distinct strokes of the brush while mine begins to dissolve.
You’re finally home. Slow bus?
I pretend it is jest though your eyes don’t laugh. Your words de-cipher.
Don’t dress like that. Don’t act like that. Don’t be you.
I protest and you storm out. I wait for hours in the dark for the door to open so I can apologize. No dress is worth fighting over. I become beige.
Graffiti scrawls across the painting. Lavender and lilac yield to the bruise of mahogany.
Who was that calling?
You don’t believe it was my friend, my mother, work. I try rearranging your colours, examining the painting through your eyes but find myself sinking into your pot of pigment.
Don’t you fucking look at me that way.
I adopt shadow, look away.
Coral and watermelon convert to garnet and brick, and my pot has a rim that prevents flight.
* * *
A postcard is something you send from a distance.
I push aside the pots of paint. Lift a broader brush. Swish its bristles in a cup of water, start at the centre of the canvas and work outwards in slow, swimming strokes unwinding the vortex that drew me in.
And flush away the harsh colour, the bully lines of you.
Image by Patricia Sandberg