Io in Modern Dress
(About Lucien Freud’s “Girl with a Leaf”)
The spiked leaf pierces my eye. I was the one who saw, the one who couldn’t close her eyes at night. The one who peered through the pane and saw silhouettes. Naked limbs strutting
away from me. I was the one who saw shadows of bodies and tasted the salt and silt
of dead seas
It was no different when he came to me, no different to see the body of a man
who was a god. No different to be claimed by the razor edge of a glance. A piercing
line of sight claiming by body my fate. The edge of the vine leaf sparks a sharp pain.
A scratch against the white of my eye. My eye scarred, pulsed open by this forbidden view.
I couldn’t help by see. Seeing so much like possession.
Now as he clothes himself away from me, I imagine his naked body, his white
limbs, his breath that forms clouds rain and fire. His back a sheen of muscle
His words a shimmer of rivers. His body a universe unto itself.
I say nothing.
The edge of the leaf pierces and burns. I am tangled in vines, pricked and plundered.
My body turned foreign. Unknown to me.
And all for a forbidden glance. My punishment for naked sight. I am my own plague.
(Editor's note: Zlotnik's poem appears in a smaller font size to accommodate the line breaks.)
Jan Zlotnik Schmidt is a SUNY Distinguished Professor of English at SUNY New Paltz. She has been published in many journals including The Cream City Review, Kansas Quarterly, The Alaska Quarterly Review, Home Planet News, Phoebe, Black Buzzard Review, The Chiron Review, Memoir(and), The Westchester Review, and Wind. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Press Prize Series. She has had two volumes of poetry published by the Edwin Mellen Press (We Speak in Tongues, 1991; She had this memory, 2000). Recently her chapbook, The Earth Was Still, was published by Finishing Line Press and another, Hieroglyphs of Father-Daughter Time, was published by Word Temple Press.