Under the blue Tuscan sky a ten year old shepherd
picks up charcoal from a dead fire, sees the black marks
on his palms, draws circles on his arms, clouds on his legs,
a way to pass long hours watching sheep crop brush.
Soon cypress trees, scrub plants, a distant hill cover
his arms and legs. He shapes the charcoal into sticks,
moves to the rocks surrounding him, sketches the solid
animal bodies, strong shoulders, rounded hind quarters,
distant hills, nearby valleys cover boulders. His work
attracts visitors, includes a master painter from Florence.
Here is Heaven. My gaze moves up, into the blue sky sprinkled
with gold stars. Color from lapis lazuli, chosen for power, longevity,
ground by his hands, stained blue, nails near black. He experiments
with binders, egg, oil, works with a jewel box of colors from the earth
vermillion, azurite, malachite for clothing, burnished gold leaf for halos
angels’ wings. Only blue, not Byzantine Gold, the backdrop for his stories.
His solid figures gesture, drink from cups, weep, faces full of expression.
Mary’s anguish breaks our hearts, we feel the touch of her hands,
hear the din of horns. We are invited into the paintings, illustrations
of an imagined time, played out before a familiar Tuscan landscape,
complete with trees, rocks, a flock of sheep,
Here is Hell. The Last Judgment looms over us. Christ’s stern face
watches the virtuous pass into Heaven, the vice-ridden move down
into torments for eternity. Heat radiates from the horned Devil
rendered in charcoal. Naked sinners tumble from his hands
into an abyss. Saints and sycophants watch, halos secure.
We assume a place in the Heaven line, dismiss the Devil, an idea
as old as man, out of favor now. Giotto believed, presented choices
for our consideration:
fortitude, temperance, justice, faith, charity
or stupidity, sloth, idolatry, envy?
Will stupidity lead us to Hell? Or will it be envy?
Betsy Holleman Burke
Betsy Holleman Burke is a poet and floral designer living in the Washington, DC area. Her poetry has appeared in Front Porch Review, Searching for Hummingbirds (a collection of my work) and the Surrey Street Poetry Anthology, 2018.
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