Hieronymus Bosch, The Temptation of Saint Anthony
To start with, there is blue sky – though it might
as well be water, since you’ll meet more fish
than birds here, bearing mast and sail and crew.
From here, the saint is falling – and the eye
does likewise – onto terra firma. It’s
not for the faint of heart. An edifice
or two looms up like Babel. There’s a town –
thatched roofs on fire, a windmill, and a cell
that holds candle and crucifix. This is
the center of the triptych, and the saint
is back once more, with begging bowl. The two
side panels show him also: carried by
three kind souls; contemplating us and not
the naked lady who peeps out at him.
Around him, chaos. Out of eggs and fruit,
creatures emerge – dendritic, avian,
grotesque. A bird skates on a frozen pond;
a clothed fish swims by. Every creature here
seems self-intent, but come to tempt the saint –
to what? – a fall from reason? to the free
abandon of derangement? He remains
intact and uncorrupted as a Black
Mass plays out for communicants, and folk
process across this landscape. Not a thing
will turn him from his book and bowl – though he
may faint away, his mind’s intact. The things
he sees, he turns his back on. Like a saint.
John Claiborne Isbell
Since 2016, various MSS of John’s have placed as finalist or semifinalist for The Washington Prize (three times), The Brittingham & Felix Pollak Prizes (twice), the Elixir Press 19th Annual Poetry Award, The Gival Press Poetry Award, the 2020 Able Muse Book Award (twice) and the 2020 Richard Snyder Publication Prize. John published his first book of poetry, Allegro, in 2018, and has published in Poetry Durham, threecandles.org, the Jewish Post & Opinion, Snakeskin, and The Ekphrastic Review. He has published books with Oxford and with Cambridge University Press and appeared in Who’s Who in the World. He also once represented France in the European Ultimate Frisbee Championships. He retired this summer from The University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley, where he taught French and German. His wife continues to teach languages there.
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