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About this Poem 

"In 2011, London’s National Gallery ran an exhibit called 'Dislocations,' which displayed fractured altarpieces and orphaned fragments of art and carefully explained how the pieces might or might not once have been united. Using x-rays, punch patterns, pilaster grains and more, the exhibit presented dozens of 'jigsaw puzzles,' always incomplete. The exhibit my poem describes is imaginary, but it’s indebted to the National Gallery and to the British Museum, where 'Crouching Lion or Lioness' is on permanent display."
—Linda Bierds

Incomplete Lioness

Linda Bierds

                —National Gallery, London

Or lion. Too little marble left for certainty:
affixed to a bone-like armature, just a flank
and scored shoulder, and far down the missing,
crouching shape, a single, splay-toed paw.
The companion, or mate, is better formed
and offers a template to trace a bit, image to absence
to memory, until the lioness fills.

The exhibit is Fragments and Dislocations:
Sight and Sightlessness
. Across the room
in Renaissance, the painter, retinas tattered
as a saint’s hem, might have filled a lioness
differently: absence first, then memory,
and then the lines around his own vision, its crags

and wilderness. His century failed him,
a placard says. Just eye-lid balms
and powdered rhubarb. What retina remained
must have caught his subject’s chosen states—penitence
and ecstasy—nearsightedly, which would explain
the perfect stones, less perfect trees. Or perhaps
his partial sightlessness was corneal, and thus

the painting’s mood, front-lit through gauze.
In either case, what the painter knew—that his saint
and tiny crucifix would not adorn an altarpiece—
comes to us more slowly. Wood grains,
punch patterns, and the small keyhole
beneath a varnished leaf, suggest a sacristy cupboard,

not worship’s place, but preservation’s.
Chosen states, the placard said.
Vacancy and memory. Ecstasy and penitence.
And then, His partial vision of the whole
produced a partial masterpiece:

a saint—Jerome—and grizzled robe, flawless
in its dust. The rest is incomplete, but zero-mass

radiography, its lights and darks reversed,
reveals a shape beneath the scene:
Jerome as just two simple lines, white arc
across white axis—before they both were white-
washed over, and the saint began,
and umber brought the lion to him.

Copyright © 2013 by Linda Bierds. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on October 4, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Copyright © 2013 by Linda Bierds. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on October 4, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Linda Bierds

Linda Bierds

Linda Bierds was raised in Anchorage, Alaska, and attended the University of University of Washington, where she received her BA in 1969 and her MA in 1971.

by this poet

poem
When the cow died by the green sapling,
her limp udder splayed on the grass
like something from the sea, we offered
our words in their low calibrations—
which was our fashion—then severed
her horns with a pug-toothed blade
and pounded them out to an amber
transparency, two sheets that became,
in their moth-wing
poem
     1.

In the windless late sunlight of August,
my father set fire to a globe of twine. At his back,
the harvested acres of bluegrass and timothy
rippled. I watched from a shallow hill
as the globe, chained to the flank of his pickup truck,
galloped and bucked down a yellow row, arced
at the fire trench,
poem
". . . tomorrow I look forward to a greater harvest."
     —Charles Darwin, 1832


Month after dry month, then suddenly
a brief rain has delivered to the fractured hillsides
a haze of grass. So sparse it might be
a figment of the heart. Yet its path
on the outstretched hand is true—brush and retreat—
like the