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'The Legible Body: or Melancholia'

by Nadine Sabra Meyer:
It is 1842 and Napoleon has returned to Paris
as body-ash grey as the iron Seine,
Fuseli and Lavater have worked all winter painting
the soul’s character to flesh, each high forehead
a cathedral vaulted for the mind,
and in Italy Francesco Hayez paints this girl,
not so much a portrait as a study, the oval
of her face flattened and white as a cameo.
He paints her disheveled as the rumpled flowers
he places before her as if she, too, were perfumed
to lush disintegration, her bodice a waxy sheet
draped to falling, the lilies enveloped
in their private fluted mouths. He extends no grace
to her, but lets the light from one window
cut down the side of her face, her dress
pooling as if he can’t help himself, can’t stop
unlocking in his mind the pearly sheen
of each elasticized button, though she is sullen
and slouched as any preteen, awkward
[Rest here]
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