When Nothing But Tree

can be seen in the tree though the dogs
unmistakably indicate, when clearly 

the canopy calls to them and days
have passed before you’ve even begun,

when nothing in the undergrowth has
prompted so much as a whimper, you

must turn your thoughts to the other bank.
Scent from a living body will be carried

on the wind. Scent from a corpse in the
river spreads like oil. But say 

the return-to-elements has started just
beyond that rise. The body is cold, 

the scent like a river seeks lowest ground
becoming part of the river itself which the

trees in turn imbibe and, drawing upward,
change to living green. 

The one you seek is now an exhalation.
As the dogs, intelligent beyond our wildest

reckoning, have told us. Have
been telling us.


In Basel, on a panel made of limewood,
emphatically unrisen, 

the body of Christ lies in its frame as in
a coffin. Thwarted verticals. And strung

along a fault line where the pigment-
in-egg-yolk old way meets the pigment-

in-linseed new, the flesh
breathes beauty as only

that-which-is-liable-to-perish can breathe.
The green-going-black of face, of feet,

of visible hand confirm: no going back to
what you were. How is it

the linen on which he lies so clearly
discloses a pallet of stone (and hence

the catalog title—entombed) which means
the coffin I’ve imagined (warmer

framewood) must be pity’s crafted after-
thought. Or argument. The wholly

this-world begging to differ
with all we’ve been taught to hope for.


1521: the heretic from Wittenberg
refuses to recant though the question

has not yet turned to presence or real.
Sit down at my table (my body my 

blood) and I on your behalf will paint
a picture. Note the gaping nostril, gaping

mouth, the other mouth of the wound in his
side, the cradle of the abdomen. You see 

how disproportionate I’ve made his length,
the better to seal credulity. It’s fifteen 

hundred twenty one. “It is known,”
writes my informant, “that the artist used 

a body retrieved from the Rhine (citation
needed).” And either

the fish had not eaten the open eye or
Holbein in his studio restored it. Never

elsewhere, says the limewood, never
blind. Behold

the nearer case for mystery. I’m here to praise.

Copyright © 2021 by Linda Gregerson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 27, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.