Girl on Pavement

I turn in the night. I have offended the moon and tug the blackout curtains closed. I think of men and how little I have eaten. I am so alert. I get up to read by candlelight. I sink into laundry warm out of the dryer. I think of folding myself into a man. I am always bunching up my cotton dress, sick with it. I abandon friends and start to think they are on the periphery of the men that hang huge framed canvases over my face. They give the nail one good thump and hang them, then move along like busy movers. Now I am faceless walking through the streets. I can’t get through doorways, the gold frame of my canvas thumping over and over against door frames. I hit people with it if I turn too fast. Another man comes along, runs a finger along the canvas, paints a flower impasto. A carnation, white, red, and bleeding — it overtakes the landscape. I can’t breathe. I am running into everything. The wind billows my white tennis skirt.

No, the men don’t hang the canvas on me. I take it and hang it on myself.

The pavement is static. The sky is half sunlight, half rainclouds. I walk along with my baby braids, my cropped top. Vendors shout at me when I knock things over with my golden frame. Oranges roll on the pavement, persimmons bruise after the fall. Another man comes to paint on me. I am sitting on a bench in the park, feet kicked out, fragile. He sticks out his thumb, measures me, the proportions of the canvas. He paints a grey sky with a streak of pink and pregnant black clouds twisting out water like a towel.

I breathe. The clouds on the canvas move. There’s thunder. I am being hugged by an arm. It is not a man who has painted on me but a ray of the sun. I imagine it is what the hands that painted on me feel like – an arm of the sun. Another comes to paint on me. A peaches and cream sunset that melts down the canvas. Another comes, paints emerald cliffs and wind in fields of grass. I’m tired. I speak faintly to passersby. “Do you see me dripping in the paint of them?” They hurry past. I want the paint to dry but the men won’t blow on it. They won’t sign their name on the corner. I am always waiting for them to sign their name on the corner, for no other man to paint on it, the final painting: textured, beautiful. I don’t want them to own me. I want to sign my name above theirs. Or below. Alongside. Hyphen our names. Keep them separate. I don’t care.

The sun breaks through the clouds and singles me out. The canvas lights up in the center and a hole burns there. The hole grows bigger until my face pokes through it. I am crying. My eyes are navy blue. They are pregnant with rain. I squeeze the water out like a twisted towel. It wets my black, white-collared dress. I wring it out. My hair is brown and long. I wring it out too. The painting burns out from the center to the corners. The frame remains.

I lie in the square where I also sat on a bench until I am dry. People walk past me, see a girl inside a frame. There is a single carnation between my legs. It is white and red and bleeding.

KATRINA PAPOUSKAYA is a Belarusian-American writer currently residing in Brooklyn. She is working on her MFA in poetry at The New School. Her poetry has been featured in Glassworks magazine.