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Weekly Poem: ‘Your Art History’

By Jason Gray
'Photographing Eden' by Jason Gray

1. First Lesson

The first thing I ever heard from you
Was how to paint the Savior dead.

I felt unseated, struck like Mary
At the angel’s visitation,

And fell in love with your voice. Here
Was prophecy: I sensed the words

Shook you as much as they shook me.
But the foretold means nothing if none

Can read what’s on the summer air
And what is not: against the dark

A flash of fireflies, a speck
Of water on the brightest day.

2. Interpretation

Here you are the Corinthian Maid,
Trying to get your lover into the sun
To trace his shadow. Always he must go,
Always you stay. How you will learn to love
The rock you drew on when he’s gone.
Born out of need to keep at least a ghost
Of our loves, the history of art is this:
The bitter kiss of chalk left on your lips
When stone is film plate and adored.
Forget the process, love the aftertaste.

When Adam left to tend his olives,
You were left to bear his image.
His knee-high boys with jelly-covered fingers
Grasped your skirt and marked their territory.
The jelly stains were little hearts all over you.
No woman had ever been so loved, you told yourself,
And scratched a stick into the ground.

3. Case Study (The Annunciation by Jan van Eyck)

Here she stands stained blue
And ready to divide
Into a copy of God,

Who focuses His light
Through the window-lens-her name
Projected upside-down

As if the painter knew
Years hence all newlyweds
Would be thus joined and sainted.

4. Inspiration

Right now you are afield
Taking impossible photographs
Of a wedding-someone you
Once loved, and someone else in white.
The invitation plain
And on the level; still, you wonder
If this is a fiction you’re creating. Look at the image reborn
In the chemical bath, the darkness drawn
Out of the white, and fixed
Forever. Though maybe some time later
You’ll find a small square emptied
Of its memories, the way her dark
Hair loosened from the veil
And spilled over the dress, his tie
Undone and hanging down
His wine-stained shirt-front as they fall
Into the car and disappear. Go. The world is nothing
But waiting for the light to burn
All the images
Of what it will be like henceforth,
And what it used to be.
Like a ring, glinting inside the paper,
The twist of silver tells us so.

Jason Gray is the author of “Photographing Eden” (Ohio Univ. Press, 2008), winner of the Hollis Summers Prize, as well as two chapbooks, “How to Paint the Savior Dead” (Kent State UP, 2007) and “Adam & Eve Go to the Zoo” (Dream Horse, 2003). His poems and reviews have appeared in Poetry, the American Poetry Review, Poetry Ireland Review, the Southern Review and elsewhere. He co-edits the online journal, Unsplendid and reviews poetry on his blog, Line Art.

Editor’s note: For more poetry, visit the NewsHour’s Poetry Series.

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