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Portrait of the Portrait as Simulacrum

I used to walk to work through the park before sunrise,
which wasn’t safe, but I think it was this sense
of danger that impelled me, this knowingness
that anything could happen, that I wouldn’t know
until something did.                   
                                           Though mostly, it didn’t.

I would arrive on the other side with an illusion
of success, relief & grief & fortitude flooding
my young, green veins.

The other side was the city, which was not my
birthplace, but which I had come, in my own way,
to love.  I passed the coffee shop where, despite
six inches of snow, the man who worked the
early shift stepped out in only his polo shirt
& khaki slacks.  I was all bundled up & muffled too,
watching as he dragged a bag of stale breads
toward the dumpster—not even shivering,
not even hurrying back.

Then, I passed the second coffee shop
where the same man with the black beret
sat every morning with his white porcelain cup
& his (must have been) cappuccino & his
crumpled copy of The New York Times.

He was older, & I liked to imagine him as
my father, who never had time to read the paper
& only knew coffee came in “instant” & “black.”
But thinking of my father, tenderly this way,
becomes a conduit to thinking of my mother,
who only drank tea & had decreed it the superior
beverage; my mother, who did not know how
to be still or at ease in the world & for whom
I had long felt some contempt & much sorrow.

                                           Mostly now, just sorrow.

It strikes me as wrong what they say about hindsight’s
perfect vision.  We take pictures because we want to
remember what we know we’ll forget; we keep them
because we hope to make their meanings new. 
Every morning I wake beside the woman to whom
I have set my heart like a radio dial, the light static
of her breathing in the constant dark & our movement
together through these channels, the riddle of us replete
& recurrent as song.

I have no explanation for the impulse toward artistic
rendering, though I suspect the wish for preservation
is always somehow involved.  Once, as a child,
my mother showed me her hand, a place where she had
been burned & scarred.  It was not a deep scar, but
something she said “would be with her” forever.
I was troubled by this notion, & I even cried about it:
the problem of lost purity, of uncommissioned alterations.

What I want now is only to keep moving forward,
to continue this path among young flowers & aging trees
& to come upon even the gravestones with patience, as they too
have a place in this story.  I have asked myself here, unraveling the
quiet, retrospective yarn which—though far from impartial—
instructs me in the way we might see, the way we might begin

to take notice of what will be with us forever: everything
backlit, suspended in time, & much of it also foreshadowed.
I come to the crosswalk, I look both ways, I chance the
newly crowded intersection.  And I repeat to myself, which is the
true purpose of mantra or prayer: Such as we are, I say.
                                                                   Such as we ever will be.  


Julie Marie Wade is the author of two collections of poetry, Without (Finishing Line Press, 2010) and Postage Due (White Pine Press, 2013), and two collections of lyric nonfiction, Wishbone: A Memoir in Fractures (Colgate University Press, 2010) and Small Fires (Sarabande Books, 2011).  Most recently, she has received an Al Smith Individual Artist Grant from the Kentucky Arts Council and the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Memoir.  Julie lives with her partner and their two cats in the Bluegrass State, where she is a doctoral candidate and graduate teaching fellow in the Humanities program at the University of Louisville.