Restoring Pontormo's Veronica
His phantom breathed down my neck –
I smelled his pungent manhood,
grimy crusts on his pant thighs
he was no faint knight – his fortitude
held a madman in artists clothing.
I could see it in the swipes eroding
at his angel’s feet - a brush thick
as the Fire-eater’s brow – and swift
with a dab of his thumb’s bravado
he created Veronica’s smallest toe.
I felt the energy of his prime, a storm
conjuring Veronica’s purest form -
womanhood enticing him, betrothed
under her spell when holding the cloth
of Christ’s Imprint, or perhaps his own.
I hesitated then to be up there alone
with the rumble of traffic below
stripping us bare of time. I let go
my brush so as not to touch
the Veronica he guarded so much.
His stormy emotions blew me down
numb on the cusp of the scaffold board –
my legs dangling as his breath pushed
through his love’s stare and his own glare –
My Veronica is not to be touched.
But his lunatic ghost had no powerful stand
over time’s clutch. I finally stood and began
my fearful cleaning of centuries’ dust
and history’s grime holding on to the last stroke
of his hard caressing brush.
Fruit of Thy Womb
(tribute to the model in Caravaggio’s Death of the Virgin)
You were born virgin,
woman of a voracious nature
where men had wet your legs
and molded your nipples hard
without the caress of a baby’s breath.
Your pose in eternal succumbing
spreads Virgin arms on the artist’s bed
with the fruit of thy womb worn
as a cross by many of those men crying
who died for their own sins –
mortal wants and crude departures
thrown into a heavenly white release.
If you had put them under your cloak
with a mystical gift of having no scent
you could have wrapped them into
an immaculate ejaculation
and freed their spirit
in guiltless lust.
Class Visit to Watch the Brancacci Video
On the wall of the Carmine's refractory
Adam and Eve appear in animated motion
the way Lippi had painted them centuries before
in the Brancacci next door - our headphones
as pathways to merge pigments into light.
The deep voice of an omnipotent narrator
tells us how the story went: the flames
of the pillars billowed and crackled densely
through our ears, the church caved in,
the walls heated, then melted into a violent
condensed version of history. We,
protected behind the Voice, control
the volume of destruction's noise. We
take the next step into the artist’s vision
and watch the miracle revealed to Us:
the reincarnation of Masaccio’s Christ.
He walks with His shadow to heal the man –
the one that stood with the concave leg –
healed before our eyes there in the refractory
where We, unknowingly, become visionaries.
In virtual frescoed colors Masaccio eyes us,
and through the deep majestic god-voice of time,
he returns in transparent intonaco revived
in a way that only We, Pharaohs of our own century,
could bring movement to Adam and Eve.
Then there is light upon us, in our solid world
squinting from the light of day as we walk away
from the refractory, the boy chewing his apple,
the girl removing the Voice from her ears,
each step weighing a hundred years.
A Restorer's Spill
Love has tainted everything,
like that day Giò
knocked over the bowl
on the scaffolding
when he grabbed your waist,
spilling gold on Vasari’s knight,
spreading dazzle on a hardened face –
love’s warrior blinded by the sight
of Giò dripping onto you, trusting
the thrust of his original intent –
then you removed the lustre
with a rag of love’s lament.
Restoration of a 13th Century Icon
I may fill the lacuna with the exact colour
between child and crown there on her throne
and think to be part of that eternal art,
I may write a poem because of her stare
alone in the musty solvent smells of work
leaving me to ponder what it’s worth –
her glance may juggle time with eternity
making light the intricacies of death
because she survived the centuries –
but the space between her eyes and mine
holds humanity’s enduring struggle with art
and will never depict the lacuna of life.
These poems were inspired "by working face-to-face with ancient masters and living in the cradle of the Renaissance."
"Restoration of a 13th Century Icon" was first published in "Full of Grace" (Judith Dupre, Random House).
Lily Prigioniero graduated from University of Michigan and moved to Florence, Italy, where she was hired by the Pitti fresco restoration team to work on some of Tuscany's greatest masters. She has taught writing and art conservation in study abroad programs for NYU, Brandeis, and Florence University of the Arts. She lives with her family in the hills outside Florence.
The Ekphrastic Review
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