Lightly scented oil trickled
off my forehead and into the font,
lay like a skin on the water.
For a second, I may have thought
I was asked to drown—though no life yet
to flash before my eyes—just birth,
a green room filled with applause.
After that, one unremitting nap,
both hands tucked in tiny socks,
my soft nails growing too fast.
Squinting to see who’d startled
me awake, I was calmed back to my
Godmother’s bottomless rocking.
I surrendered, wrinkled, red-faced,
some later said ugly as a baby hyena,
a few spiked threads of hair
the color of beeswax.
My mother clutched a candle
as though it were a bowed and twisted
rose scraped of its thorns.
Hand-picked choir voices rolled forward
crashing over the tops of pews.
Where could I run, days heavy,
in my mother-of-pearl baby shoes?
On the 16 mm film, stained glass appeared gray.
Everyone gathered to see me made pure,
to keep me from being numbered
among the beasts.
Praying to Fra Lippi’s Mistress
“Make them forget there’s such a thing as flesh” – Robert Browning
Opening the triptych panels wide, I kissed faceless
what I thought
for years was the true Madonna
saying prayers before I pulled back my bedding,
washed off my make-up.
I watched her disappear over time,
smear into a red window.
In art history books we learned she wasn’t sacred after all,
but, rather, Friar Lippi’s mistress,
for whom he risked everything;
set against steep cliffs
and stunted trees,
the glow of her skin
rising over the banks of angels.
I’ve watched my daughter press her cheek against hers,
slowly trace with her finger
the large pear-shaped pearl
hung low on the Madonna’s shaved,
perfectly domed forehead.
But if the Madonna wasn’t sacred to Fra Lippi, what
would he have done with us?
Would he have painted the skin
of my daughter’s cheek
as she knelt in prayer, her long brown hair
cascading down her back?
She places a kiss
on what’s left of Lucrezia’s face.
Afterwards, she gently wipes her mark.
There’s space left by adoration
to place one’s face.
This is a woman, this is flesh.
We know what’s ours to pray for—
all of us, sumptuous vanishing points.
Cloud of breath,
Bone where we once misread stone,
fear rather than dear.
They dragged our neighbor outside,
not We met our new neighbor, shared bread.
Turn the card over to a golden field,
grain stalks clearly scripted against the sky.
My family gathers around our own warmed loaf.
A single white candle pierces the middle,
drips long wax lace onto the small wheat hill.
Was that tiny ink blot not, before shot—
Grandmother’s feather-shaped eyes
sweeping through foreign woods
for her missing son? Dreams flowed loose,
tore on brambly banks.
In my father’s handwriting, words spatter
rain steadily kicked us
on the back of a hand-painted
postcard where a skinny,
clutches a wind-thrashed umbrella
in one hand, tilts to the weight
of a water pail in the other.
Fleeing, was this all
my mother and father had time to write
or standing here
all we could bear to read?:
We were carried.
we were married.
Holding bread crust up to my lips,
I watch a crow hop past its black-feathered anchor
into just a bit of atmosphere.
My cat lunges into a rhododendron bush,
another January mouse pushed out of earth.
Disemboweled, its whiskered head will be left
behind like a misplaced chess piece
or bodiless, a perfect size zero.
My dog says its time to eat again,
but she’ll have to wait before dry food
hammers dinner into her blue bowl.
Outside, water thinly pours down the gutter,
drips just barely into a puddle.
Size zero—once, no weight or shape,
now these pants don’t slip as easily
past my bones anymore.
How did I fill with them with zero,
slim-cut jeans carefully placed on the bed,
breath held, my body, a bluish flame
I perpetually gave birth to?
Released at the waist,
I never knew I could expand
like a choir, suddenly swelling
into a hallelujah,
my face glowing bright as a banjo.
I allow my body a few moments to settle.
In late morning’s first splinters of light,
I allow it to stay.