Monday, February 09, 2009

770. The Children - Joan Aleshire

(From Giovanni di Paolo's "Raising of Lazarus")

Before perspective or shadows or names ––
he is simply John son of Paul. Before mistakes
could be revised, each stroke was indelible
on the hardening wall. Before doubt,
or the consciousness of self before
the expression of doubt, the painter gave
to his flat, clear shapes a solid
definition –– Lazarus green from the grave,
with the odd, sheep-like eyes those Italians
thought eastern; the crowd at the tomb
one shape, a hilly landscape or a cloud
no gap between any figure and its neighbor,
lapping against the next.

Some heads have the gold scallop,
that coin the holy get; these are the ones
who stare awed and almost smiling
at the gaping tomb. But others, no haloes,
cover their noses; one even gags
at Lazarus' stench. Vomit sprays down
delicately on dotted lines from a red-rimmed
oval punctuated by chicklet teeth.
All of these doubters frown.

Christ stands at the center of course,
larger, welcoming Lazarus back
to the world –– the dark desert
with its mountains that loom darker,
more forbidding still. It will take faith,
or courage, to step from the ease of the tomb
toward those onlookers, into this landscape
where little lives. Christ
will be the magnet, but what drew me
most wasn't that expected beard and blessing
hand. The painter has added something on his own
to the scene –– two children, heads too large
for their bodies. He means them, the plaque says,
to be us, the watching world.

Back to back, almost joined, one looks
at the disciples, the faithful and Christ,
the other at Lazarus half-decayed.
One side all spirit and overcoming;
the other by what the body comes to
overcome. The heads, the heads
are what stopped me at this picture.
They look up so open-mouthed, in the way
of all children. You know, when they stumble
from sleep onto a scene they can make no sense of,
that paints itself as a fresco is painted:
instant, indelible in the soft blank wall.