The Invention of Canvas

By Ash Wednesday you’ll have me
hauling water in a Roman tunic. Not
that I mind the costumes. I’m sure
you’d bind me in most fetching fashion
to face an archery squad
of pudgy putti
giggling as they pierce my breast.
Do you think a sash
made from your caged sables is enough
to keep me still? God is not found
in stillness. You may not believe,
but you build silent cathedrals
in your frames, and God is everything
they shut out. The fur of sables
makes the best brushes, so you claim,
and your strokes on the canvas are as soft
as the creature’s paws as she runs
from the hunter over packed snow.

To capture my neck’s reflection
in the gold tear dangling from my ear
is a clerk’s work. I’ll show you genius:
the artist in the Venice you scorn
who stood day after day on the dock
watching ships unload Chinese silks,
Indian spices — how much blood
shed for nutmeg, crowds rioting
for pepper! it takes a boat’s bellyful
of silk to make a profit — and his
patience paid off. One morning
a ship unfurled its sails and he saw
the future in their folds. He took
a flensing knife, cut out a square
of the woven flax and stretched it
taut. That was the end of gessoed
wood and fresco, that for so long
had been so good for painting
the stone-leafed gods, so poor
for our holy, harrowing flesh.

Take your time, amore. When I’m gone
I want men to go blind
when they watch me wash my hair.

Printed from Cerise Press:

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