In the eyes of Dürer’s Saint Jerome,
desert inhabits the dark flecks
of his downward gaze.
It harrowed him. He came back clean
as picked bone. Chalcis of sunlight, and sand—
only in the eyes can days be counted,
days of muscle wasting, in which desire
dwindled to the body’s dry growl.
He’s written something for us—
the open page as luminous as his ancient beard
of golden white—but it’s centuries now
and the hand’s obscure.
To harrow: toil after the plow. It’s spreading work,
once the deeper churning’s done.
Always the smell of last year’s crop,
roots long unquenched, then steeped
in sudden rain. The harrow’s tracks
are as thin as the stomach’s curse.
If time slowed till the finest dust
from each foot that met the rutted stair
were seen to cloud the shoe;
if the polished harrow on the museum floor
remained as mudcaked as the harrow
in memory; if, after centuries, particles
flourished like midges in the swarm
or wormed into the blond poles,
would the ground be ready for planting?
For we are hungry now,
says the farmhand to his dun-haired wife,
stretching up from the farm tableau. Our desert
was also dry and flecked our eyes.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.