“I didn’t want my picture taken because I was going to cry. I didn’t know why I was going to cry, but I knew that if anybody spoke to me or looked at me too closely the tears would fly out of my eyes and the sobs would fly out of my throat and I’d cry for a week. I could feel the tears brimming and sloshing in me like water in a glass that is unsteady and too full.
This was the last round of photographs before the magazine went to press and we returned to Tulsa or Biloxi or Teaneck or Coos Bay or wherever we’d come from, and we were supposed to be photographed with props to show what we wanted to be.
Betsy held an ear of corn to show she wanted to be a farmer’s wife, and Hilda held the bald, faceless head of a hatmaker’s dummy to show she wanted to design hats, and Doreen held a gold-embroidered sari to show she wanted to be a social worker in India (she didn’t really, she told me, she only wanted to get her hands on a sari).
When they asked me what I wanted to be I said I didn’t know.
‘Oh, sure you know,’ the photographer said.
'She wants,’ said Jay Cee wittily, 'to be everything.’
I said I wanted to be a poet.
Then they scouted about for something for me to hold.
Jay Cee suggested a book of poems, but the photographer said no, that was too obvious. It should be something that showed what inspired the poems. Finally Jay Cee undipped the single, long-stemmed paper rose from her latest hat.
The photographer fiddled with his hot white lights. 'Show how happy it makes you to write a poem.’
I stared through the frieze of rubber-plant leaves in Jay Cee’s window to the blue sky beyond. A few stagey cloud puffs were traveling from right to left. I fixed my eyes on the largest cloud, as if, when it passed out of sight, I might have the good luck to pass with it.
I felt it was very important to keep the line of my mouth level.
'Give us a smile.’
At last, obediently, like the mouth of a ventriloquist’s dummy, my own mouth started to quirk up.
'Hey,’ the photographer protested, with sudden foreboding, 'you look like you’re going to cry.’”