Jane Hammond, Untitled (193, 184, 141, 109), 1990, Oil on linen, 76 x 70 inches. Collection of Madeleine and David Lubar. © Jane Hammond. Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York. From the exhibition Houdini: Art and Magic, on view at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Madison, Wisconsin, February 11 through May 13, 2012.

Cut Out: What the Magician Misses Most
after an untitled painting by Jane Hammond

[audio link]

Ability to quit, to risk the String of pearls that used to sit
heavy against the throat, hand at nape, the clasp’s click.
Some days the children: the stroller weight quickstep; their sickness & soak;
the spit; the grit. Some days the link to Mother, who wished for this.

The feet. Feel of toe-heel connected earth. Thick
hair hidden underneath slick. Holes in clothes. Unbound chest. Glitterlessness.
Correct pronouns. Her tongue & voice.
Knowing that she was—wasn’t she?—a woman. Correspondence to her silhouette.

Working unlit, off-canvas, backstage. Relative lightness
of ball & chain. The brush, the pen, the magic
stick the skirted shadow cast still carries. Its
backstory: mending his trousers, booking his trips,

rehearsing—endlessly rehearsing—his lines, his tricks. Removing his glass
black shoes. Taking off his moon-powder face.

—Wendy Vardaman