Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Beata Beatrix
When the air clears and the moon
returns, it’s Beata Beatrix I recall though Rossetti’s
Pre-Raphaelite symbolism seems a little
smeary and sentimental for an Okie,
on a back porch mulling obsession and half
a can of Lone Star. Tonight, I can imagine
Rossetti's suffering: his Lizzie
gone, how he buried a reef
of new poems clutched in her pale fingers,
then, years later, empty and tired
of scavenging the gray creeks
of his imagination for some great mudcat
of a sonnet that didn’t want to be dragged
out of its hollow log, he dug her up
at midnight from Christ’s Church
Graveyard and found a fat worm
had bored a hole through each page.
If this were Oaklawn Cemetery, where spectres
of long dead Okies drag tired wings through
calcified stone, the ghosts
of my cousins and uncle would have raised
their longnecks then laughed because
in Oklahoma you’ve got to have a sense
of humor to carry you past
the grave. After that, Rossetti kept painting
this one picture over and over: small
details shifting, a white dove dipped
in cadmium red, the light clearing, and even
Dante in the background looking up
as if to say what the hell?
Markham Johnson won the Pablo Neruda Prize from Nimrod, and his first poetry collection was published by the University Press of Florida. He has an MFA from Vermont College, and his poems have been published widely in magazines including Nine Mile, Coal Hill, and Library Journal.
2/4/2019 11:27:58 am
Good one! I like the play of distance from and closeness to the painting.
2/4/2019 09:25:04 pm
Mr. Markham Johnson, you have created an outstanding poem. I find your "Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Beata Beatrix" remarkable not only for its evocative imagery, but also for the skillful contrasting of Rosetti's time and place with those of your family member, i.e. "those who would have laughed." The Dante / Beatrice enigmatic relationship lies behind the poem, as it does behind the painting. Love your work!
2/27/2022 02:10:07 pm
Had bored a hole through each page. If this were Oaklawn Cemetery, where spectres, I truly appreciate your great post!
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