I am taking a picture
of everyone I have ever loved,
most of whom I have lost
—not intentionally, though neglect
I suppose is a form of intention.
I am taking one of you,
and of others: friends, lovers,
girlfriends and boyfriends whose names
I will not remember,
but whose faces I have
in print. On film. Permanently.
I am making an argument for the idea of permanence.
I am building a gallery, a one-woman show.
People will come and marvel at your pink-speckled cheek,
and the riotous mullet, the sea-dark—
(but why, they think, why, God, with the mullet,)
the perfectly exposed sea-dark green of your eyes.

I am taking a picture
of everyone I ever loved
because I think it right, good, and natural
to want something for yourself, sometimes,
to want something back.
I want something back.
I want proof of purchase.
I want the image in my mind’s eye to last
longer than the second it lives for,
and I want the sunlight on the fallen leaves,
and I want the winged shadow of an upturned eyelash—
I demand the winged shadow of an upturned eyelash.
I am sick of it being taken away. They are mine,
I made them, for I loved you and I saw you
and I made them,
they belong to me.

I am taking a picture
of everyone I ever loved
and waiting for them to leave me.
I am putting the body into the image and the image into the future
so the body can escape the body.
I am allowing it to use my eye as a staircase
to climb away from the past,
and someday I am using the image as a staircase
the other way down, back to this moment,
where I pave my own neck with hot breath
and watch hungrily.
I am already hungry.

I am taking a picture of everyone—
Give me the face you want remembered. I’ll take it.
I am putting the image into the mind into the body.
I am making a list of the things I will never get back
and keeping it.
I am giving myself the only part of you I allow myself to ask for,
taking it. I am taking the picture
and putting it in my heart
and swallowing the heart.
I am taking the memory and putting it on the page
and throwing away the memory.
I am taking the body and putting it in the picture
and putting it in the picture
and taking it back.

Teddy O’Brien a young writer from Salem, Oregon, currently living in Palo Alto, California. Her work has been published in The Oregonian and The Roadrunner Review, and she was selected as a finalist for the Lex Allen Literary Festival Poetry Contest.

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3 Responses to Portraiture

  1. ljjanes says:

    I love this piece! I recently lost my husband, my niece, and my sister is getting ready to leave us. This is exactly how I feel. I love the passionate energy and the desire contained within this poem. I would love to read more by this author. So moving. So stirring.

  2. ljjanes says:

    I have already left a comment, but I just had to comment again. I’m sharing this poem with everyone I know and I just hope the author sees this because I want her to know that this is one of my favorite poems now in the whole world. It’s amazing.

    • andyinkansas says:

      I concur. I have never been much of a poetry person, really, but I’ve recently started having some come out of me. That led me here and to this poem, and I’m so grateful for it. I just signed up so I could comment.

      I struggle a lot with abandonment issues and holding on to the past and this really put so much of that into words. I honestly cried a little. I’ll be looking for more from you. Absolutely lovely. Thank you.

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