On the Distance
of the Painter’s Arm

Hilary Vaughn Dobel

I still have to explain how
the first time I undressed a man,
he was half-drowned and hypothermic.
I regarded the two of us, me slicing

through wet denim, stuffing
heat packs under his arms,
and toweling his hair. Trying very hard
not to look at the unwanted all

of him. (Chief complaint: none.
Mechanism of injury: Lake Carnegie.
Face: pleasing, under different
circumstances
.) It was to be avoided,

like standing right up at paintings
in the museum until all you see
is brushwork: Holofernes’s nose,
a wax-winged boy staggering

out of the sky. I am old
enough now that I have found
the subject I prefer, which is to say,
myself, though perhaps it is not

responsible. I do not know
what business he had with the water
that night, but if there is anything
I learned, it is the danger of looking

too closely, should one’s life appear
less than art. Should one decide to be done
with it altogether. See, I am Our Lady
of Pratfalls and Secretaries in Disgrace,

Athena Showing Too Much Leg Again.
Step back. I would have you see me
in this way, always: raiment aflutter,
flesh tones so inviting I am almost alive.

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