Lord, grant that I may always desire more than I can accomplish
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.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.