Painting Czeslawa Kwoka
In Brasse’s black and white photos,
you are a young girl with a round face
dropped into a flat, gray world,
26947 sewn on a striped wardrobe,
naked beneath these numbers.
What does color bring to you?
In color you move through our minds.
In color you are a movie star: Mia Farrow—
slightly protruding upper lip, swollen bottom
forms a dense shadow to your chin.
In color you are a young woman
bleeding from within: pale skin
filters red to pink. This is the
girl you are at Auschwitz, Czeslawa.
You are not a criminal.
Your full color portrait
forces our reaction—
your hair is the warmest
fall in a dead winter, amber
background sparks the short, matted
bristles: adolescent questions
quickly extinguished when a scarf adds
texture, diagonal patterns, another
look of a 14-year-old prisoner.
In color you transform: we can
touch your swollen mouth, feel the
voice beneath the left side of your face,
where grays mix with pinks,
a rash of illness.
The contrast holds us.
In a soft color profile,
above and slightly right
of 26947, we see a tear
from your right eye spilling down,
just underneath skin transparent,
thin from a bleak setting.
We follow the contour of your
smeared mouth, slightly opened,
trace from lower lip to the
bottom of your chin:
this part of pinkish-gray flesh
appears as number 7.
This is not intentional.
In color we feel the
blacks of uniformity,
harsh marks of suffering
blacken the scratched
shadows below your nostrils.
The black slit above your
gray lower lip sucks us
empty—your eyes, black
oval platters reflecting
SS soldiers and worse
within deep, gray carvings.
Black is blacker in color.
Painted close-up: a bright
yellow backdrop brightens
the scarf’s pattern, your hair
hidden in black and white
becomes strands of sunlight,
movement on still life.
Yellows warm your cheeks,
your forehead clear of dirt,
yellows remove the dark patch
from the tip of your nose we see
in each of Brasse’s photographs.
Yellows plunge orange,
settle on the center left of your chest.
You can breathe them in.
from Autumn Sky Poetry 15, October 10, 2009, previously published in AdmitTwo
Paintings by Lori Schreiner.
Photo by Wilhem Brasse used with permission from the archival collection of the State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oswiecim.