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Portrait of Houdini with Wife

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The pleasure of contrast: not chained up
      in an oilcoth sack underwater,
holding his breath, but composing himself

for the camera, in his only suit.
      You have to understand photography—
unforgiving mirror, unlike oils that soften

the hard edges of a man’s face
      if you want them to, or velvet curtain
shielding the pine box during an escape.

The audience imagines his bones contracting
      to a splinter. That’s not at all how it’s done—
the camera’s lens blanketed by cloth

to keep it in the dark; any halo of light
      ruptures the film with shadow. His eyes already
turn inward to that place we’re going.

She thinks about escape too:
      at the horse butcher, in line like the others,
or arguing over the price of bread

at the Market of Innocents. Adam’s rib
      is forever hidden inside her chest
as the force of blows hibernates in a boxer’s fist,

but she, at least, is smiling when he says,
      We have such a small family,
meaning your body

wont open to me—it’s shackled
      inside its cage: love and rage,
whose bars are meant to be broken.

Robin Ekiss, “Portrait of Houdini with Wife” from The Mansion of Happiness. Copyright © 2009 by Robin Ekiss. Reprinted by permission of The University of Georgia Press.
Source: The Mansion of Happiness (University of Georgia Press, 2009)
Portrait of Houdini with Wife

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