As writers, I think we cycle through various fixations. At different points of my life, I have been obsessed with silent film stars, describing snow, the personal effects of dead people, and medieval tapestries. The list goes on... Currently, I can't stop myself from Googling images and clips of classical ballet dancers. Curiosity feeds my art, even when there will be no pointe shoes in what I'm writing now, and only a little snow. Sick, sniffly, and cranky today, I combed through my own writerly archives and found these quite ancient poems. They brought me right back to my medieval portraiture/gold women fixation of seven years ago. I had just traveled to Europe that summer, and saw the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries in person. I loved those arch, stiff figures, and the symbolically mysterious cornucopia of creatures fixed at awkward angles around the maidens. Back in Seattle, I was cutting apart an old calendar of Botticelli's most famous paintings, and his flaxen-haired maidens painted centuries later called me back right away to the tapestries. Those same blonde maidens with the same faces, cast again and again as Madonnas and Venuses and Muses. I guess I'm still a little in love with them. Anyway, these two ekphrastastic (new word!) poems came directly from two of those uber-famous works. I post them here because, truth be told, I never was a very good poet, and this is really the only venue informal enough to share them. Also, they are oooolllldddd. Don't judge.
After Botticelli’s Birth of Venus
I am the bone white Venus.
I cut my feet when I walked to shore;
I wore clothes that were not my own
but my breasts glinted as pearls
inside my raiments.
The children came to touch my skin.
It wouldn’t be hidden
You are a body of fireflies!
My hair looped around the room like the rings of Saturn
and I spit seawater onto my plate.
Excuse her for she has just been born
they said in embarrassment.
I did not know the language yet
and my old tongue fled quickly,
twisted away like gilded fish.
They could not tell I wept
thought my tears a remnant of my salted womb
like the drippings from my limbs,
bursting into bloom on the plank wood floor.
I gurgled words I knew to them, uncomprehending;
the nymphs stole in at the sound and stole cheeses from
the bell dumb crowd
as I rang and rang them with a sound like whale calls.
That wicked baby who has dogged me flew in,
pinched my nipple.
I was dreaming of the shell, tongue-pink
my kelp body, drifting
just another unfound treasure in the deep
and now diminished, diminishing
trawled out and flaking light
like the most common catch,
After Botticelli’s Madonna del Magnificat
Oh mother of the milky skin cry the angels.
There, I shall write in your book, pageboy;
you are prettier than girls.
The corona of my baby cuts into my breast,
my fingers slide over the slick seeds of the pomegranate.
Your wrists are lilies cry the angels.
My baby is fat and transfixed and heavy;
my skin is taut over my forehead.
I can feel the angels rotating my crown like a poker traced ‘ore my scalp
ear to ear.
Your hair golds like wheat cry the angels.
Your face is beautiful and fine like a shell.
I want them to waft this baby, this weight, away;
my robes stripped off
and float aimless like a star
unknown, unheralded, unflaxed with gold,
empty as I was born.
(all images: Wikipedia)