“To the Former Self in Art Class” by Hannah Faith Notess

Hannah Faith Notess


You didn’t know the boy sitting next to you
in Watercolor 101 was going to shutter himself
in the car, stop breathing, break the heart
of his father and the whole college.

Let’s be honest. His cones and cylinders
were as lopsided, as badly shaded
as everyone else’s cones and cylinders.

When you hear the news two years later,
you search your own tatty portfolio
for clues, sigh If only I had known—
but I want to shake you and say, You didn’t,

and anyway that phrase is a stupider knife
even than Ockham’s razor. If you went,
with your grey lens of knowledge, back to that
minute, you’d still be painting the same

burnt-out cathedral under burnt-orange blood
dripping from the sky, collaged with quotations
from The Waste Land. You thought it meant

you were losing your faith; but look, there you are
sitting in church, five years in the future,
wondering (like a good Protestant) why
you want so much to pray for the souls of the dead.

In fact, you could go back and forth enough
times to wear a rut in the floor of time,
but your awkward brushstrokes would still paint
the same cathedral that lists to the left. You’d still

stay up all night in agony over the alchemical
substance of the soul. Your grand attempts
at phthalo yellow sunrises would still turn murky,

while the same boy sat silent beside you,
washing the globe of an apple with quinacridone
gold, shading it with Payne’s grey,
the same dark worm asleep on his heart.

from Rattle #27, Summer 2007

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