Balthus, The Victim, 1946 by Juliana Gray

[You can read CM Burroughs introduction to Juliana Gray’s poems here.]


Where does the greedy eye come to rest?

The girl unfolds on the soiled white sheet,


her skin as gray-flecked as wartime bread.

Hard to look at her face, her parted lips,


for longer than a moment; hard not to stare

at her smooth, demure cunt, the dead center


of the canvas.  Balthus leads the eye from left,

along the awkward splay of her foot, right


and down the calf, the knee’s violent turn,

up the rounded thigh to the bare plane


of stomach, chest, dangling arm, the hand

that may be holding onto something small.


Her eyes are closed, or mostly closed.  Perhaps

she’s only sleeping.  Her body is unmarked,


unbloodied; only her ear is slightly red,

as if the neighbors have been gossiping.


If she’s asleep or in a trance, then why

the title?  Why, below her puzzling face,


underneath the exposed, ugly mattress,

has Balthus dropped on the floor a spotless knife?


The blade points toward the victim’s heart.

The haft–one of us must pick it up.



Juliana Gray is the author of Roleplay, which won the Dream Horse Press 2010 Orphic Prize, and the forthcoming chapbook Anne Boleyn’s Sleeve. Recent poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from PMS: poemmemoirstory, Measure, 32 Poems, River Styx. An Alabama native, she teaches at Alfred University in western New York.