That Day in Assisi
Remember that dark, patched robe
Held erect on some flimsy stand, its frayed
edges on display in the Chapel of Relics,
testament to the impoverished saint protected
in the fortress basilica in Assisi? Or, maybe,
not a robe robe but — what was that word? --
tunic or habit — though aren't those worn
by nuns? — and wasn't it the key to his story,
to the birth of his order, the foundation for
this edifice, a monument to modesty? You,
though, were drawn not to the long-dead saint's
vestments, the supposed trace of his actual
body, so small as to be startling; rather,
your eyes led to the Upper Basilica
and the frescoes that spoke of the world before the
Renaissance as they told the lives of Christ and Saint Francis.
I remember faint traces of some once regal blue
in what is most likely Cimabue’s time worn Crucifixion,
the Christ, Angels and followers faded to pale apparitions
of the artist’s intent, while the people in Giotto’s
Legend of Saint Francis — at least some attribute it to him,
Cimabue’s student — appeared so crisp in their lines
they seemed to represent a kind of contemporaneity
to bring the life of Francis back alive when the work was new.
And in your abstract painting, in which boxy shapes
appear connected or open into one another, linked
together, but without any clear beginning or end,
I see the dull brown of Saint Francis’s habit and a rich blue
hinting at either Cimabue’s or Giotto’s original intent,
and still more colours, soft grays, tans, and greens as silent
and somber as a chapel in the Lower Basilica in Assisi.
Your painting moves, or at least the shapes and colours
move the eye with a strong sense of momentum, even with
abrupt changes in direction, suggesting there is no one
definitive movement through the work, much like the questions
raised by how we remember ourselves on that day in Assisi,
in that ironic church — a glorious religious monument
to a man, a Saint, whose life and order rejected such things --
a temple to memory in which the art has faded over time
and has lifted a cloud of doubt of who exactly was the artist.
Michael Janairo is a former newspaper columnist and editor who now works at a museum in upstate New York, where he lives with his wife, son and dog. His writing has been published in various journals and anthologies, including Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, Star*Line Magazine, Eye to the Telescope, Kartika Review, Maganda Magazine, Walang Hiya: Literature Taking Risks Toward Liberatory Practice, and the Abiko Quarterly. His family name is pronounced "ha NIGH row." He blogs at michaeljanairo.com.
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