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Poetry

Lord, grant that I may always desire more than I can accomplish
         —Michelangelo

 

Small thing                this grief             you have no name for—          useless wanting          release

from what was given                and what made you.                How else but to think             of you

here         some  mountain  of  stone          in  the  Hall  of  the  Prisoners—              all  this  imperfection

laid  bare       as  if        to  set  something  aside          might  be  another  art      of   finishing  in  itself?

Everything  in  absentia—           unholy  negligence—              your  own  unmaking.     How  you  are

to  me        as  these  scraps  of  marble         once  meant  to  be made           into  the  bodies  of  men—

Michelangelo                set them all aside                   in stretch of arm                         lean of  torso.

I  wanted  to  tell  you       but  I was too  young              that  the  marble              used  to  make  David

was too small                to start with—          he is not            in fact               perfectly proportioned.

 

 

How I  used to watch                            your fingers                twitching          in the waiting room—

so unsteady                   in their hunger—                  this impulse       to revise            your marble

as if  stone                     and dirt                     could ever  be made                   malleable enough.

Even the psalms           still  leave  you  wanting—       watching bone               surface muscle—

so much subtraction                  for so many years                  that your body          wants for nothing

beyond  small  measure.              Even  Michelangelo       sculpted  freehand          along  the  coronal

plane:                It is well                        with me           when I have a chisel                         in my hand.

 

 

At Renfrew                   you kept your wig                 on a hat stand                             wrapped

your dark hair               in black scarves          spoke only in whispers             when we heard you.

Whole weekends                        you waited      with hands       in your lap        for your husband

to bring your children.               Each time he didn’t               I  found  you                   running circles

around  the  car  park      as if       to put your body       through such ritual                    could absolve

you of your guilt                         the way our sculptor            thought his work          an act of God:

nothing more                than freeing the figure              from his own             overgrown frame.

 

 

Judith                          I wasn’t there            when they took you                in an ambulance—

your husband                having lost        his faith           your body      cold chevron    on white sheet.

So often            I looked for you            in the meal line—     small gesture                 as if to say

I  have  seen  you                as  if  anyone              other  than  the  sculptor          herself  could  preserve

what is left                                 when the silica settles.           So often            I have looked for you

in all this stone              in agony            of rib              and taut serratus.         The four men

in  the  hall         never  did  guard  Julius—         man who Michelangelo            called       his tragedy.

 

 


Katherine Mooney Brooks teaches expository writing at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she is an MFA candidate in poetry and nonfiction and serves as lead associate editor emerita of Blackbird. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Blackbird and Tusculum Review.


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