Portrait of Houdini with Wife
The pleasure of contrast: not chained up
in an oilcloth sack underwater,
holding his breath, but composing himself
for the camera, in his only suit.
You have to understand photography—
unforgiving mirror, unlike oils that soften
the hard edges of a man’s face
if you want them to, or velvet curtain
shielding the pine box during an escape.
The audience imagines his bones contracting
to a splinter. That’s not at all how it’s done—
the camera’s lens blanketed by cloth
to keep it in the dark; any halo of light
ruptures the film with shadow. His eyes already
turn inward to that place we’re going.
She thinks about escape too:
at the horse butcher, in line like the others,
or arguing over the price of bread
at the Market of Innocents. Adam’s rib
is forever hidden inside her chest
as the force of blows hibernates in a boxer’s fist,
but she, at least, is smiling when he says,
We have such a small family,
meaning your body
won’t open to me— it’s shackled
inside its cage: love and rage,
whose bars are meant to be broken.
“Portrait of Houdini with Wife” first appeared in Gulf Coast, Vol. 17.1 (Winter/Spring 2005): 43-44.