I. Leave Taking
Lorenzo Lotto, your painting, “Christ Taking Leave of his Mother” haunts me.
Or is it you – for Samuel Johnson said of ghosts:
“It is wonderful that five thousand years have now elapsed since the creation of the world, and still it is undecided whether or not there has ever been an instance of the
spirit of any person appearing after death. All argument is against it; but all belief is for it."
And you wake me, Lorenzo, at 1:44 a.m., and you won’t let me sleep – lo, all those saints gathered round, haloes gracing their heads – and your patron, Elisabetta Rota, in the corner with a prayer book open in her hand, and her little dog with its hypercephalic forehead perched at her feet. And there she is dressed in red, red bleeding into black. Caput Mortuum.
On a tour in a very old museum, the tour guide said that in the past, people covered portraits because what you looked at looked back at you and changed you forever. People are visited by ghosts.
Listen, Lorenzo. I do not think Mary was consoled – and perhaps you, too, did not think thus, for her eyes are blind with grief, and her mouth, her open mouth, grimaces in pain.
And what of Saint Anne hovering darkly behind, Saint Anne, mother of Mary, grandmother of Jesus? It seems she wrings her hands as if she knows a child born to a barren woman such as she, is destined for greatness. Like Sarah, mother of Isaac and Hannah, mother of Samuel, and like Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist. And when an angel of the Lord appeared and called : “Anne, Anne,” the Lord heard your prayers, and you conceived and bore Mary, your child.
Lorenzo, you are no stranger to departures, you, a loner, a wanderer traveling Anacona, Treviso, the Marches, Venice; you, solitary, emotional, insecure, but your mother, what of her? Bernard Berenson said of you that “Never, neither before not after Lorenzo Lotto, has there been an artist who could paint so much of his own interior life on the face of his models.”(1)
The cherry tree, Lorenzo, the broken branch with hanging fruit, it says what you do not even as you visit me past midnight. It cannot tell of new beginnings, for it is severed from the tree. Indeed, if not dead, it is dying – and your spirit visits me, but it is your painting that speaks.
1. Gustaw Herling: “My elaboration of the story always conforms to the reality at its source. It is always to the close to the world, the life, the reality it describes. No matter where I go, I’m still holding up a mirror.”
II. Leave Taking: For My Mother, Mary Katherine
Look Mama, Mary is distraught.
See her tragic eyes?
They seem not to see
the leave-taking of her son.
I, too, have a son,
your grandson who moved away.
Look Mother, how the women hold Mary back,
Look how they grasp her shoulders;
she would perish
for her son.
He is set to die,
set to carry his cross
up Calvary’s hill;
he waits the nails
“Father, Why have you
Look inside this darkened room, Mama;
it is hard to see,
hard to imagine
words that might bring ease,
hard to imagine any sound;
even the lapdog
at Elizabetta’s feet
seems unable to howl.
Look, Mama grief hovers,
Mama, if this is what men do to other men,
Now then, what can be spoken?
Now then, what can be said?
Sue Brannan Walker
Sue Brannan Walker is professor emerita at the University of South Alabama where she taught for 35 years. She served as Chair of the English Department and was the Stokes Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing and Director of Creative Write at USA. She was the Poet Laureate of Alabama from 2003-2012 and is the Publisher of Negative Capability Press. She was the 2013 recipient of the Eugene Current-Garcia Award for Alabama's Distinguished Scholar and was awarded also the Adele Mellen Award for distinguished scholarship for her critical book on James Dickey, The Ecological Poetics of James Dickey, by the Edwin Mellen Press. Sue serves on the Board of the Alabama Writers Forum and Blakeley State Park and has served as President of the Alabama Writers Conclave, 2014-2017.She has published 11 books of poetry, several anthologies, over 100 poems and critical articles in various journals. Her book, In the Realm of the Rivers, with a foreword by Edward O. Wilson, was published by New South Books. Her recorded reading of her book on Carson McCullers and slide show was presented at the International Centenary Carson McCullers Conference in Rome, Italy, in July 2017. A new edition of It's Good Weather for Fudge was released by NewSouth Books in January 2017. Her book, Let Us Imagine Her Name, an abecedarian, prose-poem memoir featuring 16 noted feminine persons, has just been released by Clemson University Press in July 2017. See negativecapabilitypress.org.
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