Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2023  Vol. 21  No.3
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Portrait of Louisa Cobb Thompson by an Unidentified Chinese Artist
at the Nantucket Whaling Museum

She’s twice made, an image:
first daguerreotype, then painting
side by side behind the glass display,
part of Nantucket & The World

she’s the wife of the Captain,
of the last Nantucket whaler,
and was dead when he sailed
across far seas, a photograph of her

in his pocket. Somewhere,
he met a Chinese artist
who must have agreed to paint
her for cheap (at least in dollars).

He mirrored the photograph
so that in the painting I see
her left arm instead of right
slightly bent, resting gently

on her dress, which he guessed
was black, though it might
have been brown or blue.
He kept her lace collar white,

but made the collar button
red—for her earrings and lips
too. He wanted to give her
some luck, vitality, happiness,

all held in a color—or maybe
he saw it in her photograph, in her—
who knows if he knew she was dead.
The didactic merely says:

The porcelain complexion
and Asiatic appearance of the eyes
gives this painting away
as the work of a Chinese artist

So I make up any history
through looking—at her, at his
work of art. I take my own
photo of her on my phone,

now a third image—mine
to remember what I want:
that red—that red I identify
by—my ancestor’s hand.  

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