Rochelle Jewel Shapiro

The tall windows of the studio
framed the geometry of the El
where the A train rattled into
Mott Avenue Station.
Turp and benzine itched my nose.
The utility sink had hollowed yellow soap
to wash out our brushes.
Plaster casts of hands and faces
hung on the dusty blue walls.
There were shelves of reference pictures
clipped from Life and impressionist paintings
from gallery catalogues and art calendars.

I, eleven, wanted to be Amy, the youngest
in Little Women, the artist.
At my easel, I painted two deer in a forest.

Mr. Brooks, “an art enthusiast,”
stopped by to check my progress.
“Your breasts are still small,” he whispered,
then groped them through my smock.
I could have called out for Pinky, the art teacher,
who was in her office.
But Mr. Brooks was the librarian’s husband.
She wore cat’s-eye glasses and shirtwaists,
and smiled when she told me, “Be quiet.”
And if my father found out, he’d never let me come back.

The A train rattled into the Mott Avenue Station.
The plaster face of Madame Curie
looked down from the dusty blue wall.
I steadied my hand on my mahlstick
to paint the deer’s eyes
with my skinniest brush.