Austin Segrest


          -The Helga Pictures, 1987

In the front room of my adolescence,
on a dresser of blond wood beneath a mirror

facing the front door nobody much used,
Helga caught the barnlight in her red hair.

Cover to cover, one day she appeared.
If they noticed at all, nobody mentioned it.

Southfacing, walled with picture windows
like a greenhouse, it wasn’t a room, really,

but an open concept for the Alabama sun,
its every last syllable and squib.

The pale carpet warm even in winter,
I stood with my back to the light

and turned the golden pages of Helga’s
plaited hair, lost in the lines and shadows

of her unpainted, sunpainted skin:
Wyeth’s secret, nude,

but no nubile muse.
The rubbertree dropped its gum on the carpet.

The sun sat up straight at the table,
in the never-used loveseat and chairs,

which, freed from the concepts of living
or dining, commenced slowly to fade,

as I turned the barnlight over, looking for Helga
on the porch, the hair above her unpainted lip

glistening in profile. I didn’t know whether
to abscond with the book to the bathroom

or stay suspended in wonder at how close
I had to look to see that it was painted,

planted in that world of faded barns.

Austin Segrest

is the author of Door to Remain, winner of the 2021 Vassar Miller Prize for Poetry. Born and raised in Alabama, he teaches at Lawrence University in Wisconsin.