What century this picture?
Under the lamp on the dresser, propped
carefully in the calm hour of night—
everything elsewhere breathing
the measured rhythm of drowse—
A pastel-colored picture from the torn
folio of an old hymnal book:
A tall angel glides—
over a footbridge
in a similar sheaf of deep night,
holding the hand
of a blond child, the child’s
hair the color of English ash.
This hurts me.
I gaze at the portrait until I swear
there is movement.
What is leaving?
Though neither figure smiles, there seems
an odd sense of peace.
I watch the figures
and the soft colors quiver.
The child gazing up into the angel’s open face.
Angel and child holding hands.
The touch felt as a breeze of moonlight, sieved through
dark branches of evergreen.
Hand-held, the blond child becomes
a blond child again,
a lighter vessel.
On a hill in the deep background, a nearly
imperceptible house, a sleeping
roof, a blue breath of light rimming
the outer blueness.
Oh, God, tear this leaving
The page, the paper—
delicate and painful.
In the foreground, the angel
out of the picture, his wings
On the footbridge, the peaceful ripple of a predawn breeze.
Silver dew building.
In the still blue house, the sound of a pen scratching across paper.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.