Letter to a Midwestern Artist by Alina Stefanescu

Letter to a Midwestern Artist

I have found a different diner at which to begin my days. You would appreciate the waitress, a high-school dropout not a day over sixteen. The girl slides into a common currency: the slick cash of cuteness. Yum yum she says and licks her bubble-gum glossed lips. This is not a Schiele painting. Not a medieval unicorn tapestry. This is an ad for toothpaste but the girl isn’t getting paid.

I should have gone when the giggles glazed over, shiny as wooden icons. When the gold became a fragment of face and not some mystical sacred sheen. I should have gone when the Trotskyist hearts broke in unison – while there was still a bouquet inside the machine gun. While there were still flowers. Still life in the future of a blast. Revolutions might yet have bloomed in technicolor firecrackers. What cracks know is knuckle. The current crackerwork: stilettos over sidewalks. Determined daughters – the girls who are driven – step straight into the open mouths of the cracks. The crunch of their mothers’ broken backs.

Before you kissed me, it took a catechism of dirty words to open the hymnals. You admire the prism of our song. I saw panel after panel of stained glass. Not an illusion of optics. The prison bars of long ago beauty real as stares that bleed. True as the ache of icons. The tears tumbling from wooden faces. Women with heads shrouded in black kerchiefs, their steps vague as park pigeons.

I should have gone before you hired others to pick through the laundry. All the clothes hung outside. The things we used to cover our bodies turned into diagnoses. The parts you deemed insolent. The droopy chemise arms. The helpless carapaces of unworn days. The things I saw hanging. The things which stung. And the accusation of loose kisses trembled like lips after the piano recital. Little girl lips. The choir on the cusp of the high note.

I should have gone before the embraces grew specific. To unbear what needed bearing. To admit what had been borne. To know better than the competition. How could I compete with the flesh you froze in monuments?

I should have gone before you presented me with a gift that assumed my death. The stone statue which said I was done. A piece of work. Your product. To know nothing could alter the monument of me. Hard rock being what a materialist makes of fresh-plucked memory.

I should have. Despite the surly awning of yellow daffodils. Despite the pie graph of love on our side. Despite the rules gathered from Nancy Reagan’s palmist. Despite the subtle setback of acorn tide which felt almost lunar. Even if it was. Even if it wasn’t. Despite the lighthouse and the fog and the face hereafter. Despite the pieces of a script we’d perfected through performance. Despite the boxloads of blazing candles and the slow grist of wax. Despite the yes yes yes. Even if it was a yes. Even if it wasn’t. Despite the scent of clover of summer’s fingertips and how much came of this and that. Despite the sum of those. Even if there was a calculus. Even if there wasn’t. Despite the things you said to make us real, including the lullaby of solid prose used as a bedtime blanket. Despite the binkie. Despite how carefully you covered me. Because you covered me. Even if you didn’t. I should have. Gone.




Alina lives in Tuscaloosa with her partner and three small native species. Her story “White Tennis Shoes” won the Ryan R. Gibbs Flash Fiction Award from New Delta Review this year. She wonders if you will read it. She likes to imagine cymbals turning pages. And you – reading. More online at www.alinastefanescu.com.


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[Painting by Egon Schiele]