Artemisia in the Darkroom

by Kate McCollum

Our class is made of seven girls. 
The guys dropped out after 
They saw the enlarger 
In the darkroom 
And decided it was too much work
To make a photograph — 
But we still ask if anyone is there. 
We still pray in the dark, avoiding exposure, 
Our fingers struggling to open the film 
And unzip the velvet hollow in silence, 
In darkness like a womb,
While we tell each other ghost stories 
Of other women artists like 
Artemisia Gentileschi.  
We still call to each other when we enter the darkroom 
To hear the greeting of six other girls
Vulnerable until our eyes adjust,  
But the trouble is, when no one’s there, 
Silence is the rapist’s hello. 
And we suddenly wish we hadn’t thought
Of Artemisia Gentileschi. 
The developer sloshes back and forth
In the pan, and multiple exposures
Turn the fixer’s yellow hue to a soft, 
Bruised violet, and I think of Artemisia, 
Crying for help to the woman upstairs, her friend,
Who didn’t answer her, inspiring Artemisia 
To depict female unity in Judith Beheading Holofernes
I think of those two women
As we laugh at our silhouettes
As we share the chemicals
And protect each other’s moth-wing 
Ribbons of black and white negatives
So far from Artemisia’s studio,
Working together, like she wanted. 
But even though we’re confident in the seven,
We still call out and think of Artemisia
And what those women must have felt
Over four-hundred years ago,
In a dark painting studio in Italy,  
When Artemisia asked if anyone was there
And the silence answered.