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The mid-flight photograph reveals

the Virgin. Outside the plane is night.

A cabin window frames the frame

where, centered, stands impossibly

the Virgin, hands raised heavenward

to guide the eye, frame the blessed face.

A cloud obscures the Virgin’s face.

A cloud can solve a lot of problems.

Imagine there your face, the teacher

says. We try. But it’s a problem:

the Virgin’s clearly brushwork—

window of strokes arranged so we

might see beyond her to beyond—

and we, mere flesh. Yet the picture-

taker’s daughter can, says the face

she sees in her mind’s eye is hers.

We learn that year the eye is too

a window, just as this photograph’s

a window to the window to the Virgin.

Great revolutions in the arts, I’d later

read, are merely shifts in context.

This thought can make the photograph

a modern miracle. Decades later,

when I see the picture-taker’s daughter,

she looks like me—kids in tow,

tired behind her grocery cart. Her face,

her face as I write this grows hazy

the way in the mind particulars do.

It’s true. Close your eyes. Along

thought’s periphery, see how black

hair frames her medal of the Virgin,

the silver V of chain which leads

your eye, directs upward your gaze.

Imagine anybody’s face suspended

there. As you pursue the image’s

particulars—arch of brow, a lip’s

attendant curve—see each feature

held so steady by the mind.

Now see the way each disappears.

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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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