Portrait of Portraits

The timer announces ten minutes remain. Judges wear caution tape around their waists, spectators over each shoulder. She massages the mask frantically to bring his nose to the clay’s surface. Shoulders roll, thumbs move as hardened cycles. She peels his cheeks like a potato. Earrings sway—practiced. Backstepping, her toe point a ballerina step. She ignores her subject’s hunches, his starts. His stop-motion pen a cardiogram. On his paper, she squares pert shoulders, faces the doorway: thoroughly modern Millie, Daisy snubbing Gatsby. His caption reads, “my head is in her hands,” but he tests the paper’s surface palm-down, feeling for heat or breath. Elsewhere is a blank stare atop a bloody spine, a grotesque lollypop. Young hands graffiti the grandfather into a decapitated Kenny Rogers. This angelheaded hipster, stumbling awake from a broken velour couch beside seven or so PBR cans by those other wizened hands is painted luminous, focused. Head bowed, reverent. He is gazing at his child, he is overtaken by an elusive thought, he cannot make eye-contact with the marvel in front of him. Instead— youth fumbles for the blood cartoon paint. The nerve endings escaping the spinal column. There is no judge for my judging. My face surprised me a block ago in the Reed Brother’s window amidst hairpins and faded spools of thread.