The Poetry Project

Photographs of Paintings

Brontez Purnell

  1. I remembered that made for TV movie from his childhood. The one set in the 60s Deep South. An elderly black woman is defiantly sitting at a counter that’s whites only. The soda jerk is a boy who she was a wet nurse for and was a maid at his house. He asks her to leave and she replies. “I nursed you with milk from my breasts—AND MILK IS THE SAME AS BLLLLLLLUD!” And the white boy immediately sets her up a plate and fork at the counter. I don’t know why this is on my mind as I wake up.
  2. There was that one black and white photo of Coretta Scott King—not the famous funeral one but another of her in her living room. Hair and skin immaculate and a stoic far-away look-it’s haunted me since childhood. I thought what a bother—having Time Magazine in your face like that when your husband had just died—though still in moments of grief when I am alone I often imagine that someone is there taking pictures of me.
  3. I was sitting across from my altar to the dead in my bedroom. Right near a framed picture of Marilyn Monroe is a framed picture of my Father. They shared the same birthday. I am hesitant to draw similarities but also can’t stop myself. These two good-looking, well styled, dramatic, self-destructive bitches. These two are the reason I don’t fuck with Geminis. Geminis are fucking brutal.
  4. I sat at the flea market digging through the 25-cent cardboard box of abandoned black and white mid-century photographs that were rescued from god knows where. There is a picture of two army men in brown soldier suits sitting in a booth of a bar—one’s hands around the other. Their sleeves are both rolled up and as you would expect the more feminine one looks totally fucking wasted. You can tell these two men are fucking.
  5. To this day it is a made for TV movie set in the 70s if I could guess. I saw it on the midday movie slot my local station had growing up—I had to be about 6 I think. A woman attends an award ceremony where she walks the red carpet alone and some bitch out of NOWHERE in a very audible voice says “WHY IS SHE ALONE!?”—she wins the big award and says something to the effect of “I have had to sell many things for this award—sometimes I’ve had to sell my body” and starts crying on the mic and heaven fucking help her I think some people start booing her and she runs out of the theater crying. Even as a young boy I know this is a total fucking carry—what I can’t explain is why even after all these years I still get this deep knife twisted in gut feeling of sadness for her. Like how has that feeling maintained itself so fucking fresh—like I locked in a zip lock bag for 30 years and kept it.
  6. There is this picture of Ruth St. Dennis that always captivates me. Do you know of her? She was Martha Graham’s dance mother. It’s from the 1910s or 20s and she is wearing traditional South Asian garb (she is a white woman). Her back is arched and she has one hand saluting the sky (her signature pose) and the skirt she is wearing is bellowing out as if she is turning with a great force. It is a lie. It is theater. How sometimes the picture tells a better story than the dance itself. There is invisible thread fastened to the pleats of the skirt and pulled up and outward, giving the illusion that she twirled ballistically into this pose when in fact she is standing still.

#271 – Winter 2023