Dear Pygmalion

by Danielle Cadena Deulen


I walked into your studio and you began to invent me, to carve the half-peach of my cheek, to shape the slopes and angles of my nose, decide what tone my voice would take. When you hear me speak, I speak in keys: I ring the low notes of locks. I was already in love with another, but never mind that. Never mind that the night was wet, that she and I had broken our naked sleep to bring you a key for a door you were locked out of, in exchange for a turquoise girl: a painting that didn’t sell. I want to go on, but my voice wasn’t made to bend into past tense, unless to say I was nothing before you. Even daylight has permission to love what it wants, but you didn’t carve daylight. So, I suppose this is the exchange: I live and you love me. I must be loved. I must contain it quietly like a vessel, even if my lip is sharp and means to cut you. Even if I still dream of her tying the boxed painting to the roof of her car, riding home beneath a break in clouds, unwrapping me on her bedroom floor. So, here I am now: blanched clean and silent for you, a colorless muse. I know what you’re thinking: I’ve confused the stories. I was never the turquoise girl—my body always an uncut key inside a bundle of ivory. And when my lover left your studio, she left without me. I lay there untouched, raw in the dim light, in a mess of paint and tarps and felt your fingers fold around the cold bone that would become my left thigh, let your sharp eyes wait until something in me made something in you unlock. 


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.