The Poems

Modes

(For Karen Perlmutter)

From the Christmas, 2006, issue 

(No. 17)

The portraitist,

accoutrements: her cove,

a curving

floor-to-ceiling wall—

white, no right angles.

Canvas backdrop,

single chair,

a soft box and reflector.

I sit before the tripod, subject to light.

“Set-up is ninety per cent,” she says,

and slips the India silk

across my shoulders, hooding my hair.

“Close your eyes.”

I do; she shoots—first

a Polaroid prep.

The allegretto

strings in Beethoven’s

numinous last quartet suffuse the room.

My image comes up quick—ethereal girl,

borne away in the head of a deaf man.

She snaps the film-back onto the Hasselblad.

“Close your eyes and open slowly.

Centre on your chest.”

I lower my nose,

hear the lento e tranquillo,

deeply.

Camera captures every fraction,

reckons every breath.

Sepia: the second set.

Wearing my woven Ephesus shawl,

I’m altered—almond-eyed, almost, and older.

Grave ma non troppo tratto.

Weave of that biblical city

transposes me

instantly

into a Lydian.