Robin Ekiss

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.