Self Portrait


I’ve never drawn myself in words.

Of all the images I have had
These are the ones I recall.

The artist on Shaftesbury Avenue who drew me
at 19 on soft paper with charcoal.
I looked at it for ages wondering if
That was me?

Another –
outside Notre Dame, hair long, clipped
and held back at the fringe – gave my hair height, fell
round my face in strands – Escaping.
We travellers sat upon a wall – leaning – listening
to anecdote, our heads, shouts and screams caught in
Laughter – black and white.

The one at the barbecue in a small yard of concrete
Polish voices fill the air, bring me food, wine, cigarettes.
Smoking, drinking, eating caught me side in black
Dress , tied at the neck – halter – revealed the curve of my back.

The portrait of me
on canvass –
in thick oil paints, held in some
Kind of agony – the folio brimming with sketches, my leg slipping
Off the edge of a sofa, my hand resting on my belly laid on grass
taking in the sun. The charcoal strike in black of my spine
burnt to cinders in that man’s room. Faulty.

The one my mother took of me three years old, had to coax and cajole me into
My little white chair – her stood at distance, kept saying smile: we made each other laugh – caught me coy, mouth closed, smirk, hands on lap. Hair short, brown –always in my eyes – my mother said.

With my brother, his wife and my good friend round a table in Ontario. Fuller bodied, full of hormones, I wore the dress that is cut on the bias with the frill hem – pink t-shirt on top to hide my overflowing breasts. Holiday.

By the sea for my birthday, before champagne, my friend and me, smiling
Having the time of our lives. We looked like proper women, having a proper good time. Blue skies, faces sunned. Happy.

Half-Moon Bay in California, on the sand after a long day at beach, denim skirt, 1969 sweatshirt, a tan born of love, the man who took it loved me all my life, watched me grow, suffer and made me laugh in all the times I took a breath. Forever.

Now –
in all of times and places – I see
strong, serene and built from these moments of love.

Mercedes Benz Janis Joplin

Published by Stella McHugh

Survivor of so many things that happens to women and girls.

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