“As you can see here,”
Our teacher said,
Flashing a pleasant smile and the transparency
From Kuper’s adaptation of Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis”,
“This artist also works in scratchboard.
In fact, he does ‘Spy vs. Spy’
In scratchboard too.”
That hit me,
Yanked me out of my yawnsome
Projector demonstration reverie,
Like an apple thrown into the back.
“Miss,” I said,
Not bothering to raise my hand for such a disgrace,
“Peter Kuper uses spray paint
For ‘Spy vs. Spy.’”
Can’t let Mr. Kuper
go misrepresented, now.
“No, he doesn’t,”
She said, turning on me
“You can’t get lines that clean,
With spray paint.”
It comes down to precision.
It’s the difference between almost and perfect,
A misplaced line and exact aesthetics,
Kuper and Prohias.
Prohias was precise,
But Kuper is not,
Which is why he uses spray paint.
“The ‘Spies’ you’re thinking of,”
They’re Antonio Prohias’.
And they’re not scratchboard
“I think I know my artists,”
It’s the little things like that.
No big deal really,
No worse than an apple in an insect’s shell.
But it gets infected
And the flesh,
Both animal and plant,
Starts to rot away with one’s reasoning.
You have to cut the bad apples out
Lest they poison everything else.
I had to finish my scratchboard elsewhere,
Without an audience
(You can’t have exact movement
If you’re shaking from stage fright)
I bought my own X-Acto knife that night,
Though I could’ve stolen one
From class that day.
I wanted a mint condition blade
(Because you need perfect equipment
To make a perfect product).
I chose my board,
It was broad enough for the work at hand
Yet hidden, you see,
But could be unveiled when the time came.
Setting to work,
I laid down the first line
Then the second
Concentrating hard on ignoring the sting
(One has to disregard the twinge
If you want to create something properly.)
And wiping away the overflow
(Cause I wasn’t working with ink, like Prohias)
Keeping as precise as possible.
I didn’t even scream.
(Being a man isn’t always about gender.)
The apple itself.
The shading was the hardest.
I had to pick tiny bits of skin off at a time.
But I had enough resolve
That in time I had an apple of such a dark red
That it appeared to be ink
Poured into chiseled ivory.
A fitting tribute to the artists in question.
I engraved my insect’s back next,
Filled it in around that delicious sanguine fruit.
The two halves of his shell
Knocked off kilter,
Then the six spindle legs splayed in surprise.
Lastly, the head, still human,
Despite his appearance,
Gregor Samsa was still a man
And men don’t scream.
Men harvest their apples
And they reason.
Upon finishing the last angular strikes around the face,
I exhaled in dull euphoria.
I had finished making my point,
But my point was not yet made.
There was still the matter
Of proper representation
Of the old pro’s precision.
The next day,
I went to art class.
“You’ve barely made any progress,”
My teacher said,
Scowling down at my inked-over scratchboard,
Most of the black still unscathed.
I stood up
And grasped the hem of my skirt in my clenched fist.
I whipped it up quickly
(As all good artists do when unveiling their work),
Up past the lace on my fishnet stocking.
The teacher gasped.
Was the stark outline of Gregor Samsa
The giant beetle,
Rotting away with apple
Lodged in his back.
“Prohias used ink.
He would draw two lines
And fill the space between to make one.
That’s how he made his lines so precise,”
I said, smoothing out my skirt.
The teacher proceeded to make some phone calls,
And I sat down to etch out my scratchboard,
Content to be rid of that rotten apple.