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Poetry

There is nothing to hold me.
The marble floor is bare and hard.

The buttressed ceiling seems to swim
with coldest gusts—

From one end of the church, a burst
of piped-in choral music—Handel,

or is it Mozart? In tinny jubilation,
the voices of exuberance

pour from the candlelit apse.
A group of tourists pauses

before this church’s masterpiece,
Masaccio’s Trinity, their guide explaining

the precise new view arranged
by the deceptively painted panels

the artist contrived: there,
Masaccio created a room or temple

for Christ’s crucifixion, “an example
of the Renaissance’s first linear

perspective.” And here,
the false recesses of Masaccio’s chamber

contrast with the marble floors
and columns of the church that appears

so impermeable our flesh might slip
away from it, might fall and shatter.

Masaccio’s fresco holds Christ
against the slick, flat surfaces like bones

that do not hold a thing:
a corridor inside a temple

inside a room of time,
a place where he can hang

in our glance, an invented embrace.
God stands behind Christ,

a white dove on his chest.
God’s cloak is a cloud of dark blue.

He appears to support Christ
in his suffering

but that blue cloak billows
as if it were made of emptiness,

of cold and multiplying space.
Christ’s cross will tip back

and his body, barely fastened to it,
will tear through that thin, fading layer

of the artist’s color, tumble back
to a blackness that plummets

beyond surface, through a distance
without memory, without stars,

without God’s voice. And he
will have to suffer that falling.


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

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