Dear Galatea

by Danielle Cadena Deulen

words aren’t my business, baby. i deal 
in images. my dreams aren’t even stories, 
more like long dusty-going-nowhere road
from above, swing down over it, fast forward 
into dusk and a dead end. you’re in blue light. 

i ask what’s wrong. an owl lands on your shoulder 
so i walk up but not too close: i know it bites.
pan left and down to the card in your hand. 
now the card in the dirt. it’s number thirteen, 
picture of a skeleton with a sword. pan up to 

your face, blurred like watercolor. don’t mean 
to make you feel bad, it’s just the way i see.
maybe you can’t see it cause your gig is with words. 
you can argue all you want about which art is higher,
but an image translates itself. no sexless bald guy 

in tweed and glasses fucking up the phrasing. take 
that photo of us on a break during the first shoot. 
anyone who sees it says damn i know how things are
gonna go. i’m over your left shoulder, out-of-focus, 
smoking, looking at you through the smoke. your

head is tossed back, your mouth open. you’re 
holding up a skinny glass in center frame like you’re
giving some hilarious toast, laughing your pretty 
head off for a bunch of invisible people and i’ve 
got this look like what’s so goddamned funny?


don’t even try to revise us. what happened was 
real and you know it. you can’t thumb past me 
like some encyclopedia entry: “pygmalion: a guy
in new york i used to hang with until he got 
obsessed and i had to lose his number.” yeah. 

there’s a dust storm outside been ripping names 
right out of people’s minds. maybe you think you 
can wrap a few myths in your degree so i won’t 
get what you’re saying. well, i can call you galatea
if you want, but she never had it so good. surprised? 

i have another shocker: i did another portrait of you. 
this one’s invisible. except to people who can to paint. 
like poetry. oh, don’t worry, i’m writing an essay on 
what it looks like to me. i’ll publish it in some obscure 
journal online. i already put the painting in your room, 

over your bed so it can watch you sleep. it’s interactive. 
it changes positions when you do. so it changes a lot. 
i had to get it out of my house cause it kept asking me 
who i was. said it knew my face from bad dreams. 
my shape was familiar but colors all wrong. said i 

should put on a black shirt or build a fire in the yard, 
then it could know for sure. you want me to be your 
villain, baby? you want me to tie you to the railroad 
tracks? i’m not the one who put you out in the rain. 
i’ve been calling you home from day one.


fuck its 5:48 am i wish i could sleep. just ate a cupcake
and drank some water. a number lit up on my phone,
thought it was you so i called it back, wasn’t you. 
i wonder if your account is bust and this is some dude 
i’m spilling my guts to. i’m so screwed. god you know 

that effect when you cry in front of someone and they 
just blink. that’s it: blink. fucking sun is going to come 
up soon. i need a prescription of ambien, or something 
that will keep me from pouring my mind (tall glass pitcher, 
mind-ice-tea). i forget the cause and effect of things, what 

part was mine. i need to know if you’re ok. or if i should 
bury my keyboard, phone, address, and rather poor skill 
of telepathy, erase myself from those bad dreams you’re 
having. black shirt off. heh. i wrote a few drafts of letters 
& saw a thread through them: (black thread from the corner 

of the shirt you pulled until—no that was someone else.
i don’t know the color of your voice anymore. it used to be 
red like the roses i sent and you sent back) i never asked 
what you wanted. i didn’t want the truth or even to consider it. 
i wrote that i know and am ashamed of these things now. 

in one draft i told you how i memorized all of the items 
in your room. in another i told you i’ve been diagnosed 
with something that makes me hold onto pieces because 
it scares me too much to let them go. in one draft i said 
everything you said about me was true, but erased it because 

i was afraid that would make it true. on one page i listed dark 
reasons you said i wouldn’t love you, then i wrote darker 
reasons why you’d never love me. my list was longer. i tried
to tell you how sweets taste sweeter at sunrise. but the last lines 
were always the same: i know you think i tried to sculpt you 

into something you weren’t, but to me, the real you was 
the one i loved and the art just a reflection of that ideal.


light bulbs have a hard time with me—been blowing 
out when i walk by. occasionally streetlights do it too, 
but flicker back after i’ve passed. this bothers me. 
if only I knew how to harness this, it would be a new 
way to impress, or at least a good trick when small-talk

starts its decent for the runway. as far as feelings go, 
just pretend your whistling and you'll do fine. i really 
don't have anything further to say ‘cause it doesn’t 
matter anymore. i used the energy already. it's done. 
you can see the entire show, minus a few paintings, 

at the detroit metro airport—they bought 9. so 
i guess i should say thanks for the inspiration (usually 
staring out an airplane window is just only that). most 
people at the show thought it was about a vacation 
(insert laugh track). the first painting to sell was the red 

blur off the taxi-light in the rain, then the one of you
riding down the metro elevator, and so on. funny, 
a lady deciphered the order and what it was about, 
but she was the only one. the paintings were titled 
one to fourteen. cool how no one got an explanation, 

so everyone created elaborate concepts. i like how 
you put the stuff that went down between us. it's so 
unaccountable it fascinates me. if i were younger 
i would write a book or a movie, cause it's good stuff, 
especially from my p.o.v. (man the scene alone in front 

of the White House was beautiful). i don't think it’ll 
change anything to reiterate how funny perspectives 
are. nor do i feel i’m going to create equilibrium with 
you. i know when you pull the light switch trick there 
are only two ways of looking at things: on or off.

About the Author

Danielle Cadena Deulen is a poet, essayist, and podcast host. She is the author of three books and a chapbook: Our Emotions Get Carried Away Beyond Us, which won the Barrow Street Book Contest, American Libretto, which won the Sow’s Ear Chapbook Contest; The Riots, which won the AWP Prize in Creative Nonfiction and the GLCA New Writers Award; and Lovely Asunder, which won the Miller Williams Arkansas Poetry Prize and the Utah Book Award. Her honors include an Oregon Literary Fellowship, an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, and a Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellowship from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is co-creator and host of “Lit from the Basement,” a literary podcast and radio show. She is an assistant professor for the graduate creative writing program at Georgia State University in Atlanta. You can find out more at the author’s website.