Site Specific

The work goes here:
                               Judas recedes, lines realign, Christopher Smart
loved God through his cat, George Herbert with words in shapes,
and Jacopo Robusto detto Tintoretto through feats of geometry and oils.
He painted The Footwashing for one church wall; seen from the end of the gallery
as if walking up the church side aisle, perspective corrects and sweeps
and Jesus, sleeves rolled like the butcher or tanner, comes foreground,
kneeling to wash between Peter’s toes. But it goes wrong for me
when it goes right. I like the parts. The front and center retraction
of the neat story. That’s where, at the Prado, we stood,
looked right to see Jesus reverse his typical blessing gesture,
pointing down at a foot. Turned our heads to decide
the disciples, who tumbled on the tiles to wrestle stuck britches
off each other’s scrawny legs, were soused. Ewer. Cloak.
Foreground hound of modest yet elegant mien, curling paws.
At the communal table, bleary guy in drizzling beard listens
to the other guy’s moral disputations. And, magically simultaneous
in the back side room, like a detail box in a news graphic,
drawing us closer and closer to the big event,
tiny Last Supper. While close to the water on the main stage,
a weary apostle slumps against a pillar, halo kindled, fiddlingly
counts on his fingers or rehearses devotions or maybe tries to write gospel
with thumb on palm, forgetting he doesn’t have ink or an inkling.
And all this goes down each scene unfolding in its own separate cell.
You or I used to say, finding Judas in narrative paintings
is like Where’s Waldo, takes awhile but once you see you can’t unsee him.
I or you said, to find Judas in New Testament crowd scenes, look for the coin purse.
Tintoretto’s Judas looms far left, unlacing a sandal, adjunct to the parable,
going along with Jesus’s latest Jesus-show, money pouch half concealed
in one of his hands, body hooked like his nose, standard bit
of seventeenth-century Venetian-style Jew-hate. Kneecap like a bowl of mashed potatoes.
I get too close, lose the thread, grab at whatever lets me lose the point.
Digression, said Calvino, is for putting off the ending…perpetual evasion or flight.
Flight from what? From death of course….
                                                           The seeing all the way to the paint
as paint and the paint in pieces, in lumps, streaks and in ridges.
Judas is bald but for a haze of stubble, as if the hair had been burnt away.


It turns out ashes are very light and heavier than I expected—turns out
others have noticed this: About the weight, they say, surely horseshit,
you were at birth. As if as ashes you’ve corrected back.
I wish you could read this poem and tell me what’s too, how to correct
or de-correct correction. Before you died, when you couldn’t help or move yourself,
I lifted you a lot, began to feel your weight as other than what I knew before,
other ways with your body. And lost my earlier knowing—
                                                                                             one of the cats
(about the weight of your ashes) interrupts, springing
on the keys of the open piano, depresses two high notes. Carrying you now,
it’s like I carry the part of yourself you can’t anymore. A heavy best bearing,
marriage, to under- and misunderstand. I slide you under the bed.
The girl, softly: “I don’t want to see it.” Fourteen now,
she said take out her confidential news I put in an earlier draft. I tell you this way!
And turn my laptop to position the painting as if on the church wall,
to see it the right way, as if without you, I must return to correctness.


Imagining, next year, standing in Madrid, one of our favorite places:
El Prado, hall of the Tintoretto, long walk to the painting’s edge,
thence to center and the dispassionate dog. A chocolate or maybe lunchtime sherry taste
in my mouth, a portion of your ashes in my purse. Leaving a bit of you somewhere,
nowhere some jumpsuited worker could sweep you up, maybe nearby
in the Park of the Good Rest by the Big Pond where we drank coffee upon coffee
and read and wrote, watching children yell and play, plotted
bringing our future girl with us, or on the steps to mingle with the sandaled feet
of people you wanted to sketch, with their iPhones and belly-packs
stuffed with cash, cards, passports, tissues and tampons.
You liked those jumpsuits, bought one in a shop. Back home in your study,
typing in your cobalt bright jumpsuit, the throat unzipped
so gray chest hairs curled out at the placket, you were cross
when it was going well, apologized for your crossness, cross again.

Through the portico the sky roils lapis over San Marcuola—
he set the scene at home, not Jerusalem—see the canal with gondola
and gondolier. Crocks and bread and beards. We did take the baby to Venice.
Some Poles said: “Tsk! too young to travel.” A local: “Tsk, why no shoes, feet so cold,”
rubbing the baby’s feet to warm them. I got sick. The squid in the restaurant.
Padua was better. The Lamentation in the chapel. Sin biting her own face.
Bad Judas lifting face to kiss the Man in the Garden, bank of bystanders
waving a thicket of spikes, tableau of saint-heads served on golden dishes.
I had an infection, needed to pee, the body always making its demands,
you sketching the widows at Petrocchi where a bullet from an uprising
lodged in the wall. How cheerful they seemed! the widows, you noticed.
You liked them—and the currants in the market—
and always—I digress from digressing—you liked an uprising.



                                            Your body in the room after you went—
your last an exhale. Basins, pillows, tubes. Holding your hand I turned my head
to be polite to the nurse who came in just then—me being pointlessly polite
made you impatient—that’s when you died. As if—I see, by this perspective,
myself self-absolve and self-condemn, over and over, no resolution
or correction—that was our whole life the last six months—
as if by turning, I turned the key to unlock you from yourself.
Then I waited for the social worker—tiny, plump, hard-charging—
good because I froze. I was supposed to have made plans for your body,
had left it though they told me not to, for you weren’t dead yet
when you were only dying. Waiting for her I was glad to have you
(I felt it was still you) there with me, giving me the comfort, as always,
of your company, bearing the weight of me, glad you were there
when she came hurrying in, the social worker, as if late—to what?
and got crematoriums on speaker, helplessly laughing with me helplessly laughing
at the donkey-braying drunk funeral director who said to come with you
to make sure the right body went to her ovens, and couldn’t for even two minutes
remember my name or yours, a skill that surely would come in handy
when selling the bereaved a burning. (You’d also have liked
when I told Siri-in-my-phone to remind me, that she noted down
Pick up asses at 3:30 in Upper Darby.) But when that was done,
after all it wasn’t you, and though I’d kissed you (dead)
an hour earlier, now I couldn’t kiss you.
                                                                 Turning my laptop, thinking of life
with you, can’t see it well, waking and walking and dream. Too close.
Not close. An accumulation of adjacent details. We were always standing
irresolute (me), resolute (you), in our lives’ center, actions garbling to episode.
Judas at the proper angle makes a story make sense. A proper angle
washes a thing. Like marriage at its best. A proper villain’s useful to going on.
Then my own dirt. A way to love. Shall I make a show of it.
Shall I wash my hands of it. Tell me—you’d know, you’d see it easy—
where the work goes. Where to stand to see it.

First published in Agni 97, 2023. Reprinted by permission of the author.