For the Blind Man in the Basilica di Santa Croce, Florence

Our stories can only carry us so far. I know
there are layers beneath the layers and
you haven’t asked but I would describe
a fresco not even finished in the workshop,
discovered beneath damaged plaster here
in the Scuola del Cuoio. A simple Madonna
and child marked off with a draftsman's
patience, a sketch of faces each etched
with a different kind of cross. Evidence
of a man working out art’s proportions
like a map in the sand: golden mean in
the plaster and articulation balanced
between the bridge in the distance
for scale and the sketched-in step-child
abandoned almost in the foreground,
clutching at the mother’s skirts—all
the necessary work that gets covered over
in the finish, smoothed out and blessed
with plaster and color, that blinding light
cast by the angelic child, mother adoring.  
I would describe it all—but that’s easy
and I am not so foolish anymore. I know
you don’t need me to tell you this.
You know the chittering of swallows as
they fill the courtyard of the cloister and
the weight of sunlight on cypress and stone.
If meaning is made of anything you will
have heard it in the sound of great space
that flows down the stairs of the Pazzi chapel,
in the rattle of the tourist dragging
his bag on the pavers as he moves toward
enormous doors flung open into the heat.


Copyright © 2015 by Jeffrey Thomson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 25, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets

About this Poem

“As my time in Europe was running away, I ran off to Italy with some poetry friends. We wandered Florence and went in to the Basilica di Santa Croce.  Now, one of my foundational beliefs is that there is always another layer, another meaning, another story, that our personal perceptions are limited and it is through art that we access the potential to be more than we are. Through that blind man sitting in the piazza and that unfinished fresco in the workshop—in those images—I was trying to point in both these directions: toward my own limitations and toward a larger unfinished and unfinishable narrative.”
Jeffrey Thomson