Portrait of Lady with Cephalopod
This poem won First place in the 2017 2-Day Poem Contest
Is the girl in the daguerreotype
really staring down the unroofed eye
of the black box in the honeycombed light
of the studio, dank with elixir
of bromine, iodine? Or does she turn
hers to glass, unhinged by the man
standing behind her, his hand
a cephalopod suctioned to her shoulder,
a handlebar mustache wax melting
as he sweats out the pose.
A brother? Husband? A foundling
fondling his way to respectability,
starch in his livery—well-worn
costume of the copacetic? She’s staunch
as a soldier, stippled ringlets a plumage
of bombastic corkscrew and swirl. Somewhere
in the folds of a velvet frock, in the intake
of breath, before the photographer
will have absquatulated into terra cotta dusk
to alchemize her discomfort into
image, engraved on silvered copper
plate, she feels herself reduced
to outline. Will she bunk with him
later, the man who comes out from
behind her, waiting for the right moment to thrust
his life into her hands, exhume a sliver
of ragged Victorian sigh, clasp
a gilded hand to his breast. Does she take flight
into the phantom bones of her corsetry,
feign to enjoy or not to enjoy? She knows
this thing they call desire begets
something resembling want, resembling need.
Crushes in her fists what stirs, opens
its small mouth for food.
Published online July 13 2017.
This poem was a winner in CV2’s annual 2-Day Poem Contest. Every April, CV2 challenges players to create a new original poem that uses all 10 words of our choosing. It’s poetry under pressure for prizes, publication, and personal bests. Learn how to sign up for the next 2-Day Poem Contest.