Everyone knew the water would rise,
but nobody knew how much.
The priest at Santa Croce said, God
will not flood the church.
When the Arno broke its banks,
God entered as a river, let His mark high
above the altar.
He left nothing untouched:
stones, plaster, wood.
You are all my children.
The hem of His garment, which was
the river’s bottom sludge,
swept through Florence, filling cars and cradles,
the eyes of marble statues,
even the Doors of Paradise. And the likeness
of His son’s hands, those pierced palms soaked
with water, began to peel like skin.
The Holy Ghost appeared
as clouds of salted crystals
on the faces of saints, until the intonaco
of their painted bodies stood out from the wall as if
they had been resurrected.
This is what I know of restoration:
in a small room near San Marco,
alone on a wooden stool
nearly every day for a year,
I painted squares of blue on gessoed boards—
cobalt blue with madder rose, viridian,
lamp black—pure pigments and the strained yolk
of an egg, then penciled notes about the powders,
the percentages of each. I never asked
to what end I was doing what I did, and now
I’ll never know. Perhaps there was one square
that matched the mantle of a penitent, the stiff
hair of a donkey’s tail, a river calm beneath a bridge.
I don’t even know what I learned,
except the possibilities of blue, and how God enters.
From Red Studio by Mary Cornish, Oberlin College Press © 2007. Reprinted by permission of Oberlin College Press.