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King’s yellow for the king’s hair and halo,
mixed if the monastery can’t afford
the shell gold or gold leaf to crown the Lord,
to work the letters of his name, the Chi-Ro,
in trumpet spirals and triquetras, the yellow
a cheap and lethal burnishing, the hoard
not gold but arsenic and sulfur. The Word
curves in compass circles, and again I follow,
tracing on yellowing vellum my dread
of this jaundiced, intolerant composition,
this gold that cannot coexist with lead
or copper. O Lord, this bright solution,
like your law, has leached into my pores, my head,
and there’s no antidote to the pollution.

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

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