is the author of two recent chapbooks: November
(Finishing Line Press, '07) and Grass Elegy
(Red Dragonfly Press, '07). His collection Circle Routes
won the 2000 Akron Poetry Prize.
He lives in Maplewood, Minnesota, and works as a poet-in-the-schools.
The poems published here are part of his new collection, A Letter to Serafin
, forthcoming from The University of Akron Press.
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Madonna With the Outline of a Breast
Anonymous, 12 or 13th Century
Somebody had to paint it—
the son of god and all, wrapping
his lips around a nipple as well
as any earthly cousin.
What, anyway, was the point
of getting born without the full
manifesto of food—family arguments
over dinner, or Giada
taking a first bite
of grilled peach with prosciutto
on the Food Channel.
The monks themselves prepared meals
worthy of the son of man
should he reappear in their midst.
But how portray the infant J.
at the joy of the breast without letting on
how joyful, tempting us further?
The artist must have muttered breast,
breast, breast as he drew the bleak outline,
against the modeled flesh of the baby
who shows a wisdom beyond his years,
as if he’d just spoken to those broken
on the wheels of power.
And the mother? Under the sufferings
of the world, grief has already
worn her eyes opaque.
The Last Pietà
Eighty years old, with little patience for fools
or himself, he smashed the virgin’s arm
and the left leg of Jesus. Gone were the days
he could wrestle a David out of flawed marble;
the scaffolding he’d invented for the Sistine Chapel
had long been dismantled. Maybe the marble
had gone bad, maybe the corpse showed too much
interest in the two Marys, but Nicodemus, straining
to lay the body in the Madonna’s arms,
showed enough promise to wear Michelangelo’s face and beard.
Pietà. The pity of it. The body of the god,
for the remaining eternity of stone, stays broken.
And the Virgin—face gouged and unpolished, broad-cheeked
as a Polish peasant—she could be anyone’s mother.