Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2012 v11n1
print version

Las Meninas and Perro Semihundido
     after B.H. Fairchild

We are at the Prado in Madrid, and he says,
what do you think? and I search the entire
expanse of canvas, see the sidelong glance
of the princess, the attentive crouch of her
ladies in waiting, the reflection of the king
and queen as they enter the room,
and it occurs to me that I cannot find
anything of myself in this piece of art,
technically perfect as it may be.
I have been taught to look for something more.
This is the first photograph ever taken,
I am told, it captures a single
moment in so many different lives, but now
that I am below it, considering
the glare of the finish, I am not convinced
of its reality. It’s beautiful, I say,
because I know I should,
and I turn to him to smile,
but he is lost in the sea of faces,
Velázquez’s concentrated gaze,
the downcast eyes of a nun and the court jesters
(one nudging a tired dog on the floor).

The late afternoon light filters down
from skylights above, gathering in pools
on the marble floor and making the room
look bigger and more important
than it is, and I think of how very far
I am now from my own room a half world off
from here, the corner light that flashes yellow
over indifferent traffic and the sound
of cars driving past. And then I remember
this morning, fragments of light gliding across
his back as he got out of bed
and stepped quietly into the hallway,
not wanting to wake me.

We leave Velázquez behind and step out
into a maze of enormous hallways full of voices
and movement, a group of schoolchildren
passes, each holding hands to form a chain.
We descend the wide stone staircase
and enter a much narrower room. Inside,
I float past Goya’s dark paintings
and in a tangle of monstrous, contorted faces,
something smaller takes my eye and I am pulled
into dull color and empty eyes as a small dog
looks up into sand raining down.
His face is crumpled, his upturned eyes hopeless.
Finding something I recognize
on this unfinished canvas, I study every detail
and want to know just how he feels
in this moment or what Goya thought
of that feeling when he painted this little dog.
What are you thinking?
he asks, and I begin to tell him.    

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