Tuesday, June 25, 2024

I was wrong (1/25/24)

Zoe Byszynski


I was wrong.

I have twenty long branches outside of myself.
They twist around endlessly reaching.
Their fuzzy swirls couldn’t hope to hold you. 
My center is too mushy to stand tall for you.
I swish around and wobble like unset gelatin.
I am encased in this film that leaks and flakes and stretches and smells and burns.
Spikes all over. Growing, reaching out. Breaking?
           Something is bubbling up here, trying to get my attention.
I breathe hot steam.
            Opening and closing to get your attention.
Two empty spots in the middle. Not to look pretty, not to mean anything.

Inside I am glass. I am fragile. I am brittle. I was wrong.

I hear your voice through these loops.

Your voice bounces and bends through my hurdles with ease.

I see your eyes through filters that can’t focus right.

Never as perfect as you.

They ooze when you’re gone.

On my back I fold in half and half again and half and half.

I will not be strong. I can not learn. I won’t.

Spots consume me, mapping what I wish to let go.

Please tame me. I am wrong.

I can never cover it up. 

I will hide it. Alone and well. Alone and good? Alone and… Alone.

Sometimes I wish… I pray to sail on a boat far away.

Where no ocean could ever cast my reflection.

No cave could echo my voice.

No wind would feel my breath.

No way that it could ever get back to you.

I will sit on the dock because I know this boat is coming.

I don’t know when.

But I know it will find me and I’d rather not be surprised.

If I had more to conceal, I’d have more to pack.

I am sorry for all I’ve taken. 

All the time.

I will try to be quick in my voyage.

To vanish beyond the horizon swiftly.

I was wrong to pick you. I was wrong to burden you.

I am sorry to have knocked on your mind. I don’t wish to stay longer than I’m welcome.

I hope you meet someone with a nose just as keen.

I hope you meet someone with a smile just as wide.

I hope you meet someone with eyes just as sparkling.

I know you will meet someone with beauty as great as your own.

You are… you… you…

You have stained my life. I will not try to clean the residue.

In my mind I will be holding your hand the way you like.

Cooking what you are hungry for.

Throwing out whatever you want to let go.

Forget me with the same ease you met me. Let me waddle away and keep your head held high.

And soon you will pass me like every other stranger on the street.

Gag when you see me at the park.

Scowl when I pass you in the store.

Shove me as I stand still.

Treat me wrong. Treat me the way I deserve.

To Henry, Crane, and “those who jumped”

Zoe Byszynski


The dying sun sank to the west “cast
your indifferent rays upon the earth”

I walked out into the yard.

Hearing of my Uncle’s termination,

I became convinced of my own extinction.

To die by a heartache devoutly wished,

who would bear the love of the unworthy

and sweat after death?

I stopped about halfway across.

Two graceful faces looking upwards.

Begging, “baby bury me in Belfast

because that’s the only place my body belongs!”

Artist Note:

He snuck over the Canadian border.

He was deported.

He came back.

He was an alcoholic.

He’d been an alcoholic.

He had problems with his wife.

His second wife?

After their kid died young.


He had two more kids.

One studied psychology,

my mom told me. 

He had problems with his wife.

She might’ve reported him.

They both were undocumented.

He was the only one home when ICE detained him,


He was an alcoholic.

He came back

but he didn't let his shoes touch the ground.

They always say my father looked like him,

Except without the handlebar mustache.

They always say I look like my father.

My mom told me.

My father tells me very little.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

(Working TItle)

 by Bambi Vale

I've painted him over a dozen times. I guess this is what true love feels like. With each portrait I believe I get closer to him, knowing him both personally and physically. I know the exact degree his eyes turn down, and the angle at which his eyebrows arch. I know the color of his skin at the tip of his nose, and the exact shade it turns once it's dark. I understand the way his hair falls over his face and how it blows in the wind. I know how to capture his curled lip when he tells a lie, and I know the secret he hides. Each portrait I think I understand why he did it. Men get bored easily and forget what they have right in front of them. But women like me will never lose sight of that, I know this for sure because I glide my brush over the canvas to highlight the side of his cheek.

I don't think many of my first pieces captured him very well. That was before I thoroughly studied him. I started off having him pose for me, but he got restless easily and that made him hard to see. So, I took a couple of photographs and worked from those instead.

"I think you got my nose wrong," he pointed out early on. It's always the nose.

After the 10th session, I begged him to sit for one more portrait. He was hesitant, but eventually agreed.

"I don't understand why you keep doing this," he said when I was on his lips.


"You've got a ton of perfectly good ones already,"

"I'm not aiming for good. Anyone can do good."

"So what, you want to be great?"

I put my brush down and looked over at him from behind the canvas. His eyes moved to meet mine, never breaking his pose.

"I want people to see your face and know you are a man worth painting a thousand times. They should be able to count the exact number of hairs on your chin. They'll look into your eyes and see you looking right at me, and they will know our entire lives story."

In the end of course, it turned out he wasn't worth a single painting at all. And our story was one that had upped and ended, possibly doomed right from the start. In a whirl, I stopped painting him with an air of love and rather one of regret. Regret that I didn't see it coming.

"You're still making more?" He scoffed after walking in on portrait number 82.

I've come to the point where I can paint him by memory, though I still look over at him every now and again to see if I could capture a glimpse of remorse.

"I'll make as many as I need to,"

"Okay," he chuckled. "Whatever you need." He shook his head and walked out.

I don't think it's an obsession, really. It's a desire for the truth, the urge to know. It takes over and I've got to get it out somehow. There are far worse ways I could be dealing with this, I think I'm handling it in a rather healthy way. I could totally be losing my mind instead.


I had to see her today. Out of all the women he could've chosen, he picked one with easy access to my own home. An old college friend of ours, I don't quite remember which one of us introduced her first. I first became suspicious of them when I noticed something different in his eyes while I was painting. It wasn't anything physical, only a feeling.

"That's a very nice portrait," she said, pointing to the one I had hanging in the foyer. I only smiled.

"I could never be an artist," she continued to say. "But I'm glad you find it so... fulfilling," She walked away before she saw the look of disgust on my face.

Dinner was awful. Besides the fact that I find most of my husband's friends to be the biggest bores I've ever met, I just couldn't get it out of my head that the two of them might be playing footsie under the table. There was no real way for me to check without making a scene, so I did what artists do best- observe. I spent the rest of that dinner studying their body language, eye contact, facial expressions. I wasn't looking for any new information, it had already been confirmed the two of them were a thing. I mean I guess I was only just trying to make myself upset by watching them. There's a sort of comfort in being sad, in feeling like the only one there for you is yourself.

I don't understand what he sees in her. She makes a perfectly fine friend, but not even one I would like to spend all my time with. She's not even the type of friend I'd invite to my birthday party, a pity invite, maybe. Her looks have nothing to do with it, she's a very pretty woman. But oh, she's just so dull! Not a single piece of her it unique or genuine. And that comment about being an artist? The nerve, I played with my food while she droned on about the legacy of Pina Bausch. Everyone paid attention like she was the most interesting woman in the world, but I saw right through her. She isn't the only one who reads the New Yorker. Even her fashion is uninspired, coming straight off a store mannequin or magazine catalogue.

The proof came from a series of letters sent back and forth between them, and then eventually an eyewitness account from my sister. I found out about the letters through a postal friend of mine, who risked losing his job to bring some of the sealed envelopes to me. I never got to read any of them, but I could only imagine what they said. My sister caught them a few weeks later. She was visiting a friend two towns over when she saw them sitting close together in the park. His arm was around her while she laid her head on his shoulder. I was so upset that night I painted my first fiery landscape.

The dinner was over after what seemed like hours, and I excused myself to the kitchen to do the dishes. One by one our guests began filing out, saying goodbye on their way past the kitchen and to the front door. Once I put away the last plate, I walked into the living room where the two of them were whispering over the fireplace. She was holding a book who's title I couldn't read.

"OH darling," my husband said when he saw me. "We were just talking about possibly setting up a book club with the rest of the group, is that something you'd be interest ed in?"

"Sounds nice," I forced a smile.

"You're so smart and well read, I bet you'd add a lot of unique insight to our conversations." She giggled.

She might as well just call me stupid.


I resorted back to some of my older portraits and photographs of him so I could paint those instead. it hurt too much painting him in his present state, the nose that smells her hair, the eyes that have seen her whole, and the lips that say nothing but sweetness and light to her. I wonder how many of the jokes he used on me he's now telling her. And I wonder if he looks at her the same way he looked at me when I was fresh and new. Days went by and I locked myself away for hours, painting portrait after portrait after portrait. Of course, it only drove him further away, the time spend in confinement was time permissible for him to be with her. I just wanted him back. Eventually I switched to drawing, and I tore from page to page, making dozens of portraits at a time. In my frenzy I ripped one out too hard and tore right through his face. Even as my creation I had ruined him. With my own hands, I had ruined him. Maybe I was driving myself to madness. Maybe my madness is what drove him away. The portraits started to pile up against each other, they surrounded me and I was in a sea of him. After another long day of painting I collapsed. 

He found me later that night and for the first time in a while, rushed to my side.

"Darling, this needs to stop," he begged.

We looked around in horror at the hundreds, if not thousands, of portraits filling up the space around us. As much as I've tried, I can't bring myself to stop. Because in these portraits, he still loves me. And in these portraits, I find that I still love myself.