Natasha Trethewey

2. Blood

After George Fuller’s The Quadroon, 1880

It must be the gaze of a benevolent viewer
upon her, framed as she is in the painting’s
romantic glow, her melancholic beauty
meant to show the pathos of her condition:
black blood—that she cannot transcend it.
In the foreground she is shown at rest, seated,
her basket empty and overturned beside her
as though she would cast down the drudgery
to which she was born. A gleaner, hopeless
undine—the bucolic backdrop a dim aura
around her—she looks outward toward us as if
to bridge the distance between. Mezzo,
intermediate, how different she’s rendered
from the dark kin working the fields behind her.
If not for the ray of light appearing as if from beyond
the canvas, we might miss them—three figures
in the near distance, small as afterthought.