I have met them in the Uffizi the angel hunched on bended knee— his thigh thick beneath his satin robe— the virgin’s urgent contrapposto her sudden arm extended long beyond the border of her cape halting his rehearsed song as if his theme weren’t love but rape.
Her face impossibly serene does not betray her body’s fear. His deathless eyes have never seen a mortal woman quite so near. The space between their outstretched hands salvation in a single glance.
in the brambles and in the brush, in the long shadows on the long street, in the creases of the faces that I greet. Dryad of my back yard, Apollo of my morning, bell tones hefted heavenward, musk of hardwood burning, my wild hand that guides the pen, my tame heart that wilds when all cries Christ! and Christ! again. O beauty, O fast friend, your touch upon my parchment skin, youngs it new. The year begins.
He spoke to you in blue, in the long call of light from the top of a Tuscan hill. Your hand answered, the quick sketch of a girl taking shape before you knew she was you, head uplifted, her angelful eyes sure of what they see: being bodied true as the stilled wings, the beatified sky. What words might have passed have passed as air sighed by the soul in the act of rapture. Now there is only ochre and thin-skinned cream, struck gold against the garden’s sudden green, forever as present as it once seemed, her hands crossed soft against her hidden fear and angel’s breath still warm within your ear.
So there she stood alone amid a stillness as loud as any earthquake she had heard, the eaves creaking in the absence of wind, the hiss and tick of radiators warming the house along with a soon-coming sun. Her hands touch her belly, swelling already like dough cupped close in an earthen bowl. She knows it won’t be long before she shows. What to do with all this sudden silence? Phone her boyfriend: Joseph, I have news! E-mail St. Anne: Dear Mother, I’m afraid. Drop to her knees, now weak with recognition and kiss the space he filled a moment past in answer to the question he had asked.
How did he do it? Open those good hands, spread his five fingers wide to receive the blunt nails? Hear the crack of bone, delicate wingwork of phalanx and carpal? Hang the weight of his whole self from those soft clay doves and trust them to hold? To hold?
They flutter light. Brush against the good wood. His mother’s eye catches, watches as she used to watch beside her dreaming child those white birds of paradise gently reach for some thing lost, some thing left behind, a kingdom he saw about to come.
He knit him self up, a cable-stitch of skin. Pushed his left eye in its socket, then his right. Cracked the knuckles in his fingers (now so thin!). Raised him self from the dirt and stood up right.
Lazarus, Lazarus, don’t get dizzy. Lazarus, Lazarus, now get busy. Mary’s weeping, Martha’s made a cake, Jesus is calling at the graveyard gate. Your closest cousin, happy you are dead, Eyes Martha’s sheep and Mary’s empty bed.
He licks his lips and wags his muscled tongue. Flexes each foot till the warm blood comes. Turns from the darkness and moves toward the sun. A step. A shamble. A dead-out run.
Now forty winters have besieged this brow that bears the mark of ashes once again, its shallow furrows yielding to time’s plow as, on command, I turn and turn again. With every year the mark goes deeper still and stays there longer than the year before, reminding me, despite my flesh’s will, there comes a spring when I’ll be marked no more.
Yet still I bow and part my graying hair to make way for the dust that makes us all, the mortal touch, the cross traced in the air, the voice that tells me to regard the fall that each of us must know before we rise and raise unwrinkled brows to greet God’s eyes.