Francesco de Mura as Seen by His Goddess
What a proud bird he is, with his preen gland working.
In this portrait my Francesco is no longer bronze,
but has given himself the pearly silk cheeks
of an aristocrat. Bourbon kings
smoothed that dusk-dark velvet over his shoulders,
a laundress put her dreams of butterfat and lily buds
in the angel white of his neckcloth.
Another woman went blind embroidering garlands of red flowers
on his waistcoat, and a tailor eased it over his elegant paunch,
the very best gut one could have, refined plenitude
of fat wild boar and prized stinking goat cheese.
To look this good, he needs them all: tailors, shepherds,
farmers and kings, and they need him.
But I’m the goddess in his hand,
his woman in the pink landscape he gave me.
He dreamed me, birthed me,
set me on the young trees of my legs,
planted my foot with its tender pink veins,
he wove every thread in my goddess clothes.
He gave me a shield and the arm to bear it.
Because of him, flesh and muscle red as his chalk stick
stride up and down from my powerful neck to my heel.
He placed my war helmet with its plumes, made my curls rise
like hackle feathers.
All of me, crown to toe,
is the same soft burn of red he gave
to his own drapery and his mouth.
He signs our portrait with his seal, not his name.
We don’t need to speak in human.
But I know his hand, so when he presses down
with his red seal, we’re palm to palm. Then he puts his mouth
to the nape of my neck and breathes:
All you ever needed to live was me.
Margaret Benbow's award-winning poems and stories have appeared in many magazines and anthologies. She recently won the Many Voices Project Award in Fiction, and her story collection Boy Into Panther will be published this fall by New Rivers Press. Her poems may be seen in the book Stalking Joy, which won the Walt McDonald First Book award.
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