I Turn Them to Nighthawks
Grr tells me proudly, as if he had painted it, that there is no exit in Nighthawks. I resist the urge to say that I already knew. I have stared into the everywhere of this singular night and pondered the means in which these strangers have found themselves together long before this everlasting moment where the sweat from his palm works its way into the crevices of my fingers but I am too shy to wipe what is wet onto my brand new jeans so I just hold on. “Interesting,” I say. I think they must have been hatched there in the diner, warm like a womb, and that they are all siblings as well as lovers as well esteemed members of their enclosed community. I forgot to mention that the use of green is my favorite, followed by the mellow reds.
I am tippy-toe high, talking at Rodin’s Man with the Broken Nose as if trying to break through and Grr thinks I know that he’s broken, but really, I’m just obsessed with noses. I used to cradle his with parted lips after breaking from making out with a breath and a peck upon his face’s peak.
It was a good nose.
Bibi’s smashed nostrils broke the mold, or the clay model broke, and his head broke open into the shape of a mask and Rodin said, “That mask determined all my future work.” It’s surprising how vulnerable bronze can really be.
My father used to collect O’Keefes until I started thinking out loud about Grey Lines and I said: I know that most parts of the flower can resemble what is most intimate, and I know her philosophy and I know her style but dad, that’s a vagina. He put it in the closet the next day. “I don’t need any more reminders of your mother.”
I got good at cooking my father's dinners and I didn't have friends growing up.
St. Teresa’s ecstasy is deliriously carnal in Bernini’s sculptural masterpiece. In her vision, the Spanish nun is sent swooning into the void of Divine love, as
pleasurable and as painful as an arrow shot through one’s most unthinking organ. In college, with a convent in the back of the school, we talked about Pietà instead; she gracefully accepts her agony, the devastation not aging her a day because Michelangelo felt that chaste women simply retain their beauty longer. She is a virgin mother, after all, unlike any other mother or my own mother, who suffered her own ecstasy over my agony.
There is no art that shows a mother choosing a lover over her own daughter.
In total darkness or in a very large room, very quietly I think of a womb, warm and moist, or the darkness that surrounded my freshman roommate, literally, as she would sleep underneath her bunk bed in order to slumber almost entirely in blackness. In the mornings, she would crab walk out from under it and stretch
herself thin between the blinds’ petals of morning light so that her silhouette was dark but the room was bright and I pictured her blue, Blue Nude, as if one could always parr women down the bareness of their abstract and find safety in their strangeness.
Grr keeps talking and I feel my energy drain which it does in circumstances of heavy excitement. He thumbs the side of my hand and asks if I need to sit down. “I get overwhelmed at times.” He nods. When he was a Boy Scout, the tenderness of his cheeks would overtake him and in his bashful pride he’d forget to take up arms with the other boys who chatted and chittered and climbed trees with their zealous knees. He’d take a penknife and write his initials in the dirt, GAK, GAK, GAK, like the calling of a forgotten creature’s lonely song. Rockwell never depicted a sadness so rich in copies of the Saturday Evening Post.
“I love you,” I say, thinking of a mother loving a son or a daughter loving a father. Love can be vast yet circular. Grr silently, masked, kisses the top of my head.
What of the women, untethered from man, whose desire for affection outlasted the heartache so that most nights they found themselves enrobed in the
orange-yellow glow of a diner’s thin fluorescents – eating french toast for dessert or scrambled eggs for dinner in childlike delight – alone in their independence, but we will be interesting forever? I do not see them anymore; we only pretend to know each other now. We began by closing our circle, the circle of freshmen at our women’s college as Matisse’s Dance, yet ended as seniors opening the circle: letting go.
My friend notices my necklace and asks why I wear a vulva around my neck. I choke on water at the word. “It’s a miraculous medal,” I say, “of Mother Mary.” She shrugs. Looks like a vagina to me. I notice the medal’s soft oval shape and the way the folds of her veil envelope the small pinprick of her head like a shroud of light or second skin. “Kind of,” I say.
My mother reaches out twice within the hour. Delayed. Two more stops. I can sense her nails on the phone like she’s drumming at the veins in my wrist. I arrived at the train station a half an hour ago. In high school the bell would ring at 2:50 but I wouldn’t get home until 5. I’d haunt the halls; do homework, or cry. Then my mother would come for me, late as ever, and the car ride home would carry on in silence. My phone buzzes again. Almost there it whimpers, the text or the person, begging not to be left out in the cold, alone, even for a moment. I resist the urge to remind her that I’m punctual – that I’m the mother I never had.
Grr told me that he wants a daughter named Gwen. He wants someone to read to. I think about this for a while, a little girl with curly hair like my mother’s but green eyes like Grr’s. When we break up, I consider devastating the brick walls of sanity with a You killed our baby – even though I have always been on birth control and we never had that kind of relationship. I write, You would’ve made a good father, but a shitty husband. Then I delete it.
I’m in the back of an Uber with my friend when I slip and say how I’m interested in the way priests construct their homilies. I see the driver’s eyes glow in the rearview mirror: “You’re Catholic” he says, and I grow inward, fearful of being the recipient of yet another preaching. He talks of Latin Mass, however, and says he prefers it, because only then does the priest turn his back to the congregation and address God directly. “Otherwise” he says, referring to non-Latin Mass, “it’s like we’re all praying to the priest and not God.”
Mary Cassatt’s mother in The Child’s Bath caresses the girl’s feet tenderly like the whore in the “Anointing of Jesus.” What perfume would smell as sweet as a woman so sinful she licks toenails like confession? They tell her, “How dare you
touch the sacred feet of Christ – let him step onto you, not into you.” But Jesus wears the perfume warmly because whoever has been forgiven little loves little. Her name is Mary, like his Mother, like his friend, like this painter who chose to eschew allegory and depict a scene of tenderness and innocence between mother and daughter as if this really could be life and not just the figment of art.
For much of my adult life, Nighthawks has hung on its own wall at The Art Institute of Chicago, physically in the silence of its metaphor. It has recently been rehung, however, between two lonely companions in pseudo-triptych in order to give viewers a new perspective: Gertrude Abercrombie, The Past and Present, and Hughie Lee-Smith, Desert Forms. Did you know that Nighthawks is named after the painted patron’s beaked nose? Did you know that Hopper might’ve hated his wife? Did you know that, though lonely, Hopper was not alone in capturing the unease of his time – so it has been moved, and I shall, too.
He looms over the bridge of her nose like a captor or a thought broken free of the mind’s discontent. Kahlo has defaced herself with the image of her lover, or torturer, in Self-Portrait as Tehuana. I date again, and he, Didi, texts me that his favorite flower is a sunflower. I think sadly, though kindly, that I have birthed a new mewling fledgling to raise in all its monstrosity. I will love it and lavish it with that love until it is time for it to grow up and move on out into the night.
If I could have given birth to myself I would; yet, I was born to hold others in love and death only to respond in repose like Pietà. After death I revolve: I am at the counter, defeated – I am trapped behind bubble glass in the diner of purgatory. I am all of Picasso’s Período Azul, although maybe mostly his Blue Nude: a woman crouched in fetal form because once again,
I’ve fallen in utero.
Gina Twardosz is a humorist and essayist from Chicago, IL. Her work has been featured in MASKS Literary Magazine, Thimble Literary Magazine, and The Razor, among others. When not writing, it's usually because her cat won't get off the keyboard. You can find her on Twitter under the name: @okaypompeii.