Afternoon in Edinburgh
Your eyes pull me across the room, past the milling tourists, to where you wait, mouse-velvet collar turned against the stubble, brown beret atop your wild hair. You gaze at me across three hundred years.
Once, you painted burghers, their black robes shimmering like water, ruffs starched by obedient maids. They paid you well for their memorials, and it was they who tittered when they heard what was to be sold: the Mantegna, the Giorgione and the Raphael, objects of your lust. Inside the house, their wives ran fingers over fabrics that would no longer drape your rooms as they dreamed of their own parlours. Even with everything gone, there still was not enough for you had sinned gravely, loving Saskia beneath your class while living above it.
My sins are different than yours but sins nonetheless, so long as it is wrong to hide under guile, turn away toward ease and refuse to feel the weight of our lives.
Though you once preened like a cock, you never pretended the weight was not there. Even as a youth you felt it. Still in your twenties you squinted and saw Judas in the temple imploring the priests to take back their silver. They refused, of course, and turned their backs, and we know what came next – the hanging, the lynching, the digging in the potter’s field – but in the studio you lingered on this moment and felt its crushing weight. Now, you challenge me to be so brave.
You will live twelve years more and paint yourself again, with sallow skin and wiry hair. Defeat will hover but arrogance will save you. A delicate balance, it is, to teeter between what you know and what will save you.
If I could, I would reach under the crumpled velvet to embrace and comfort you, but there is no refuge for us, hubristic comrades, fellow penitents.
Kathleen Stone in a writer from Boston. Her critical art reviews and personal essays have been published in Arts Fuse (artsfuse.org) and Points East and she is at work on several longer projects. She co-hosts a monthly literary salon in Boston called Booklab and holds graduate degrees from the Bennington Writing Seminars and Boston University School of Law. Her website can be found at www.kathleencstone.com.
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