In a still black room, filled with the soft breathing of two sisters
Each sleeping in a soothing, unhurried, utopia,
With lids innocently closed and creases smoothed,
A vibrant enemy reigns.
It slithers through the darkness.
Then with the burst of banging metals
My stomach crumbles into
A pile of old autumn leaves.
My lids stay sealed, shading the dazzling glow
As groans reach my ears; a body flips over.
Lazily a finger triumphs over the foe
And I awake into a world where the lack of sleep cannot be forgotten.
~ Frumi Cohn
The studio apartment looks small and oppressive from the viewfinder on my camera. A sharp staccato of voices clang together, making the stifling gray walls tense up.
“Stand to the left of that wall. No, I mean my left – not hers…”
“Good, stay there were the light captures her face – great. “
“Alright. Make sure to get that on camera. Hello? Mr. Photographer? Are you getting it on camera?”
There’s no light in the apartment. I’m too scared to divulge this information to the director of the shoot, lest he seize my camera and fling it out of the barred windows down to the frigid February sidewalk, stiff from all the snow and ice that have blanketed it for the past few months.
The model stands waiflike in a severe black dress, with exaggerated shoulder pads. I walk over a few steps and reach out to loosen her hair, but the curls crunch beneath my fingertips from all of the hairspray.
“Yoohoo…you in there?” the director snaps in her face, trying to get her attention. “Face the camera, and give me some verve! I wanna feel the energy you’re emanating!” The model shrugs and nods her head slowly in affirmation. I can’t understand her resistance. She seems strangely unaware of her surroundings, as if she has tuned the director out and has conceived her own world.
“No…no, and no!” He wipes his brow and looks over at me to see if I am as frustrated as him, but I feign ignorance and looked into the viewfinder again, trying to find the light.
I can’t understand her. Despite all of his barking, she can’t conjure up even a semblance of a smile. She doesn’t even seem to be trying. She clenches the hem of the dress through her stiff fingertips.
“Lemme tell you something honey, if you’re here to model the clothing, then you gotta sell it to us. Give me some personality! Women havta want this dress when they see it on you,” he finishes off as he reaches over to fix a strand of hair that’s out of place. She looks haunting; her face carries the burden of a tragedy of some sort. I feel a kinship to her, seeing as we’re both struggling to tune the director out.
Throughout the shoot, I watch her. Her face is stoic, and defiant. It doesn’t alter in the slightest when I tell her different poses to embody. She straightens out her gaunt frame until she towers over the director, the hairdressers, and assistants. She remains above it all.
“Do anything you like now,” I instruct, “manipulate your surroundings, and give me your own pose.”
The model turns to her side, and for a moment she is almost transparent or unable to be seen. I press the shutter release down, but before I can even process the new angles of the shot, the door swings shut with a resounding bang.
I glance up, and she is gone, leaving a breeze of freedom in the doorway as her farewell.
“These arrogant models think they can come and go as they please. She’ll see how she likes it when she’s not even featured,” fumes the director. “Tomorrow, we’re bringing in the model I choose, and she won’t be from this agency.” With that being said, he rolls his eyes, slaps me on the back and strolls out.
The next morning, I show up and the director shows me the new model, being that the other girl just wasn’t able to represent the brand, or any, for that matter, he adds, muttering under his breath.
She was perky, and easy to work with, but I felt an irrevocable sense of loss from the intangible ghostly beauty of the first model.
“Give me delight! Show me sheer elation! You’re in love with yourself! Remember you represent the brand; you’re modeling for all women.” She poses, blowing the camera kisses, smiling uncontrollably, and I grimace. It’s not her fault – she’s doing her job the way she’s supposed to – but I can’t help but feel there is something missing. The director turns to me with an approving eye. He evidently made the right decision, well, according to him anyways.
“Show the dress off, it’s who you are, and what all women wanna be,” the pompous director once again instructs. I turn to her half expecting to see an eye roll or a shrug, or just a look of pure resentment, but then remembered – she’s a different model.
By the end of the day, I was tired and I just wanted to get home, but the director wanted to sit and celebrate on a job well done. On my way out he stopped me and asked, “Do you think you got your shot?”
I glance through the frames of pictures, but the image that kept coming back to me was the defiant stare on the first model’s face. The one where she stared straight at the lens with flashing eyes, and a staunch position. She had been representing the brand in her own way. She meant to say, “I do symbolize women, and this is our reply.”
“Yeah, I got the shot,” I answer, never wavering, as I grabbed my camera bag and swing open that door. It clicks shut behind me with a nod of approval.
~ Adina Feder
This poem was inspired by a different poem I wrote while at the USHMM in Washington, DC. In the museum, there is a room with a pathway down the middle. On each side is a pile of shoes taken from people as they arrived at concentration camps. This was inspired by my journey through that room.
At the top of the pile-
Little black flats with little leather caps
On the toes. Just like mine.
They must have gleamed like stars at midnight
When she slipped them on her feet
In the store.
She must have twirled, a dancer with
Tip-toes extended, catching the light
In the mirror.
Their little leather tips must have twinkled
In the sun, wet with rain, black in night
On her journeys—
—til the last—
“Take off your pretty shoes, my dear;
Put them here, together, so they don’t get lost-
My shoes feel strange on my feet.
~ Chani Grossman
The girl that can’t cry
has a heart so cold
buried under frozen tears
While her mind digests,
her soul is dead fire
it can touch, but can’t feel,
she longs for desire.
She can’t hear love
Because she cannot bear pain
She’s left listless and numb
burnt out and tamed.
she can’t blame her past,
though her past is to blame
she puts on a mask
to suit rules of the game.
On the outside, she’s a warrior,
but pain soars to the sky
her once flourishing well
of emotions ran dry.
she attempts to try
any means of escape,
to connect and to feel,
energized and awake.
she longs for someone
to read between the lines,
but deep deep down
she just wishes to cry.