Portrait of a sad girl

you know, there’s only so much pouting
in ornate chokers and lace blouses one can do
before the wannabe vampire act finally starts to
get old and you run out of wine-red lipstick
to leave on half-drunk cups of black tea.
you degrade in the sunlight that cascades through
the window of your childhood bedroom, at which
passers-by glance and shudder when the
haunted painting girl’s eyes suddenly move.

but then the conservator arrives, tutting,
brow furrowed, head shaking, but never at you
rather, at the cracking facade and broken glass
all the longing glances and growing layers of dust
such mistreated artefact, history unceremonial,
heirloom unloved!
when the conservator says, “i could fix her”,
they mean it and they know what they’re in for,
specialised task worthy challenge for a master
ready to polish their skills upon me.

and so the process can begin:
careful untacking from broken frame and support,
beholding me in all the intimacy of the unglovedness
necessary to preserve sensation while observing
every crack each missing fleck and discoloured patch
cataloguing flaws with loving and sad eyes
they make a plan

first, flattening down of decaying canvas with
heat press and expensive specialist tools,
pressing gossamer down to reinforce my spine
before applying new backing to align the broken parts
and then relieving me of my darkened varnish
all oxidised and dirt-pervaded to reveal lost subtleties
beneath grime and discolouration, brighter pigments
cleaner lines and a pink cast to the lips, the details
of my pearls and a light in the eyes for them to imagine
is only for them after being so long lost to time

filling in the cracks with palette knife kisses
cold upon skin and over too quick, and retouching
with tiny pinpricks of archival-quality paint,
all reversible, in the blank gaps where prior attempts at
shoddy repair had failed to honour sacred artist’s intent.
fresh varnish to finish, leaving me cool and glossed and shining
and they’ve done it! all the long hours of gazing into
my weathered-weepy eyes fixating upon the discoloured
cream and blush of fragmented cheeks and carefully mixing
the precise shade of sky upon the day of immortalisation
finally paid off, mitigating all needs for closeness
as they have done all they can do.

i am framed again, structurally sound, and the conservator
can look at me for once without consciousness of damage
and the work to be done, but somehow now it is worse.
finished-job-zoned. and i know
that someday my process will be retold as a case study
in obscure restoration technique
and i will be gathering dust on a new wall.
they’ve saved me,
now the conservator can send me on my way.

Featured photo by bearfotos on Freepik.


In a dream, you saw a way to survive, and you were filled with joy.


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