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A chain of blue-white chips mimics waves
around Christ’s body. On the western wall,

another scene of owl-eyed saints
drawing light
unlike us. Despite centuries of votive smoke,

the shining ranks of prophets gesture,
as sommeliers, toward mosaic scrolls

and would have you consider the honeycombed
of paradise—dome, arch, and column—

it’s nearly perfect with its air of permanence,
above penitent
and tourist, above the fray

of ethnic cleansing it would have us believe:
a Balkan
landmine planted near trillium,

the scarred field, the ghost limbs of olive trees,
and the boy
there, I mean, he’s a man now,

about my age, passing us on his prosthetic leg—
that which was
sundered brilliantly shining—though

he might have been a child when he lost the limb.
Think invention.
Think miracle. To think someone, Doctors

Without Borders, maybe, could make a man whole again.
But look:
a mortar leveled Gethsemane,

a Visigoth defaced the deposition, and,
her turquoise
hem unraveling, poor Mary’s going to pieces,

pocked by shrapnel from a mislaid bomb.
If the dome
cracked open, what a dry comb it would be.

We consider paradise anew despite its stone
to time. Christ Pantocrator, alien, severe,

claims the apse, suspended in gold
leaf, apart
from and a part of the world, the dust

those semiprecious stones become. We would find
in his Renaissance flesh,

its bordello-shades of pain—the oils
of the canvas
like the oils of the body—but where

would we find warmth beneath these glass eyes,
petrifying? His gaze arrests us

like everything we make, which is touched
with our image:
metals and mirroring glass

in mortal shapes, even the minefield,
in its violence—God before Sodom

would be amazed by such force. The mind
drips rough honey and gilds the world.

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The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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