Back to Issue Forty-Two

Portrait of a Twink as a Vermeer Sitter



You turn towards the bedside lamp.
Face crepuscular. Bust mysterious
As a sonata movement unfinished:

The pianist relinquishes his hands
Before the last cadence.
We are in a frame. Yes,

The window of the apartment.
It is night, but someone can still see us
With the precision of a Vermeer painting:

We are in the second-floor of his studio
Where the window opens

To Delft, and the light languishes
Like a sigh only exchanged
By two strangers who don’t know

Each other. Vermeer was known
For the genre painting. Aren’t we
A genre? Playing the part

Of the twink. Following each other’s lead
In the play of foreplay. Vermeer uses lapis lazuli
In the most unexpected places:

A tint in the veil of a laughing girl. A corner
In the map of West Frisia. What glimmers
In you is not as rare as the delicate blue

Mined from Afghanistan, associated
With the Virgin. But the nail polish
Bought from CVS. A lurid concoction

Of colors you only find in the vomit
I clean up on your T-shirt, or the intersection
Of strobe lights in the clubs you frequent.

In another of his paintings, a mistress drops
Her pen as a maid hands over a letter.
Behind the two is a dark background:

Through infrared reflectography, experts
Learned that Vermeer painted a phantom black
Over four, disposable figures. Of course,

There are ghosts in this room
Where you and I sit. You may think of other men.
I can, too. We are never just here.

Night is never just a meeting time,
But a secret in its deepest inflorescence.
Just as a painting is never entirely

What it presents: the blue tablecloth wilting
Under the mistress’ forearm used to be green.
Pigments change. Craquelure tumors.

But the themes remain the same in Vermeer.
Even if some characters appear only to disappear.
It’s always the same studio. His wife,

Catharina. Their children busy playing
And dying on the first floor. With our
Eyes closed, we can see all the people

Who have come before us
And cast themselves in the same role.
And I wonder when we will be tired

Divas. You don’t have a pearl earring
Harvested in the Gulf of Mannar.
It’s just a sterling silver hoop. But oh,

How the light anoints you as its subject.
The cheap luxuries we ornament
Ourselves with. The cheap luxury of you

Just turning your face. The letter
In its deepest inflorescence: opening up
To confession and privacy all at once

In the unholdable hand. We play our parts
So well, we forget that we will forget
Each other by day.


Ethan Luk was born and raised in Hong Kong. His work has been recognized by 92Y, The Kennedy Center, One Teen Story, Sine Theta Magazine, and Cosmonauts Avenue among others. He is currently an undergraduate at Princeton University.

Next (Natalie Jarrett) >

< Previous (Editor’s Note)