Dead nature or still life, I don’t know what I am.
Let me be still and alive for a moment, on this table
with the mutant persimmon, the comb with missing
teeth, and seven white hairs from my scalp.
The Henri-Charles Guerard etching Les Cocottes de la mort
pairs five pieces of origami with a human skull.
If you stare hard into the sockets of that skull,
you may see the hibernating animal. It breathes a bit,
but faintly. The heart in its ribs knows it is hunted
not for medicine but profit. For greed. This season ahead,
I will try to hibernate. I will draw the same portrait
of a dead woman in graphite, gouache, ink. November,
I line her brows. December, I color her ears. I attempt
chiaroscuro to make her surfaces appear three-dimensional.
At many points in life, you will lose your will to keep
going. I will this woman into existence. I will her into life.
It is desperate as hell. Outside the studio, the kingdom falls
down. The ice sheets migrate. Another planet, they plead.
Another social order, I plead. In the dappled darkness,
I sip burnt coffee. Degraded, the soil goes from soft
to fibrous. Degraded, the water stops irrigating its land.
Degraded, the reef turns white with fear—it ghosts
the seafloor. It halts. Degraded, a woman is still a woman.
She might turn red, burn a bit. She’s already an undesirable
color. I try to correct. I paint over her face before she suffers
more. Now the portrait is a still life. All we see of her form
are her hands reaching toward the basket of bruised
pears. All they seek is fruit. All they find is darkness.
Photograph of Sally Wen Mao courtesy of Sally Wen Mao.