In a portrait Ritts shot at Joshua Tree,
her head wrapped in black cloth,
a sheer veil both reveals her face
and curtains it off from us.
Her eyes, perhaps green or blue
(the photograph’s in black and white),
under gracefully arching brows,
cast an open gaze, frank despite its masking.
Her other features, a slender classic nose,
lips full but not unnaturally enhanced.
Though I know neither the woman nor her story,
her expression’s that of a confidant woman,
who knows what she wants and how
to get it without compromising herself,
who makes her own choices about
what and when to display, conceal.
The veil adds texture to her countenance
in the way of cracks in the paint
of a Renaissance portrait not yet restored.
Mostly the photo emphasizes
the left-and-down diagonal threads
making up the veil, suggesting
optimistic motion, but
over the woman’s left cheekbone,
to the viewers’ right when facing the image,
the crossthreads stand out more,
as if on a face in the aftermath of tears.
Her composure has arrived perhaps
by way of sorrow as well as joy.
T. Allen Culpepper