“Come over, I’ll make you some spaghetti.” I had no money when I got back from Mexico. “It would be an honor for me to paint your picture.” For hours, you’re looking, finding the blue in the skin under my eyes, and while I was doing nothing, nothing but sitting, I had to look at you. “Include me in your prayers, Edward.” You wore a red flannel shirt and blue jeans every day. You shaved your head. “The eyes are the hardest most important.” “The eyes, the eyes,” you would softly repeat. I was begging for you to take off my clothes, without saying anything. You pulled up a chair, used it to lean on, to pray. I still think I see you on street corners. You had candles, a crucifix, the rosary in your fingers. “I’ll pray for you for every hour you pose. That’s how you can pay me back.” In October after that summer I went to Mexico I couldn’t make rent. You wrote me a check for two hundred dollars. “It’s nothing, Jill Magi.” You would say my full name. We had broken up four months earlier. I had brown boots that year and wore them in every season. “Wear your green sweater. Bring over the red one just in case you need to change.” We were not supposed to make love but it was too late for me to go home. The warmth in your bed, there, next to you after sitting for my portrait, it was impossible not to embrace. I teased you: You’ve got yourself an apartment in Bushwick; the realtor told you Williamsburg; the boy from Edmonton gets bamboozled” and I laughed. Your basement, filled with canvases, a desk piled high with sketches, paper stiff with gesso. The charcoal let in only candlelight. “Remember Vermont?” You watched me swim. You watched me dance on the porch. That picture you snapped with my camera; my open face. But you looked concerned. You were plotting our break-up, weren’t you? “Just let me hold you.” Sitting for an hour, thinking, am I beautiful? I hope you have made me beautiful. We both hated The Piano, the movie. Our kissing was automatic on that first night. It was too late for me to go home. “You would have moved to Edmonton for me? You would have converted?” “Yes.” The Lucien Freud show, we go and you are shaking your head at the paintings. “There’s so much depravity, Jill Magi.” “The misuse of the body, Jill Magi.” Until I pay back the debt, these visits, these sittings go on. “Call in sick, Jill Magi. Stay with me today.” “When you paint someone the truth is sometimes unbearable.” “I’ll stay, Edward.” That November day we walked around the city and said good-bye at the subway. The hours ran out, the debt was paid, I never saw you again and I never saw my portrait.
Jill Magi works in text, image, and textiles. LABOR will be out in September 2013 from Nightboat Books, and her other books are Threads (Futurepoem), SLOT (Ugly Duckling Presse), Cadastral Map (Shearsman), and Torchwood (Shearsman). She was a 2012-13 visiting writer in the MFA poetry program at Columbia College Chicago and an instructor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.