On Who I Am

Susan E.Bartlett April 2019


The windows of the studio

were covered,

all glass and metal objects put away,

the easels had been turned

in all directions,

the artists entered one by one

that day.


The instructor was so small

I couldn’t see him,

but the voice I heard befitted

someone tall.

“From this time on, don’t glance at one another.

Until you’re done

look only at the wall.”


“Today you’ll paint a portrait with no model

except the one who’s seated

in your chair.

Paint only what you see

as you glance inward.

No painting what you wish for,

paint what’s there.”


“At last!” I thought,

“the time to show my genius,

a chance this day,

to prove just what I’m worth.

I’ll choose the brightest colors for my painting.

I’ve known the shades I’m made of

since my birth.”


Unopened tubes of paint

were laid before me,

I sorted out the brushes with great care.

“And now,”

I thought,

“begin at the beginning,

I’ll pick a lovely color

For my hair.”


“It’s not your hair I want to see.”

He whispered.

I hadn’t even noticed

that he’d come

to hover over my, as yet,

blank canvas,

to ruminate on how I had begun.


A paper floated slowly

toward my palette.

I caught it just before it hit my paint.

the letters were so small

I couldn’t read them,

no matter what I did

they still looked faint.


“Read the signs

and follow the directions.”

He whispered one more time into my ear.

“You’re here to paint your soul

just as you see it.

There is no room for

vanity in here.”


“I’m not prepared to do this!”

was my answer.

“You never said a word about the soul.

I’m only here to learn to paint

what pleases.

I’m only here to learn to play a role.”


“Then you will fail,”

he said, and I was left there

to stare in desperation at my task.

I can’t go on

and yet I can’t go backwards,

I have so many questions

still to ask.


I need someone to tell me

I see clearly,

the colors that my soul was meant to be.

Without some other human


I’ll never know

just how to look at me.


The paper in my hand

appeared to tremble.

The writing which was faint now seemed to glow.

It listed all my faults outlined

in order,

one column by a friend,

one by a foe.


The paper held so many contradictions,

the painting would show chaos,

not my face.

“I can’t use this!”

I cried into the silence.

I’m going to just go

and leave this place.”


In very tiny print, just at the bottom,

there was a warning which

I hadn’t read.

“You cannot leave

until you paint your canvas.

All work will be completed

‘fore you’re dead.”


“Then I’ll be here forever, fool,”

I shouted,

“I can’t complete my work

without some aide.

I need someone to tell me what

I look like.

I need someone to tell me how I’m made.”


In front of me, a tube of paint

sat opened.

I hadn’t seen this brand of paint before.

The color said just “God”

with no shade listed,

“lasts forever

never purchase more.”


I filled my brush and worked

away ‘til sunset.

I could barely see my canvas

in the light.

When I was done

I left with the professor.

we talked together long into the night.

Artwork: Gustave Doré 

© 2019 The Beat Goes On