Published on Academy of American Poets (

Judith and Holofernes

oil on linen, 120” x 90” by Kehinde Wiley, 2012

in the frame stood all that could be done.
a dash of blood on a long and ready blade.
a justice this particular day made late. one
head without a body, hanging from the other
body. a sign to be read, not spoken. a wish
to be wished and not had. the problem is
it’s already done and up on the wall and
although it is there, happened and recorded
its broken chronology won’t be mentioned.

I am stuck in the contrast of garden and
grave. all bloom all wither all pattern and its
sore disruption. every aunt I have known
nails set to a dazzle wears the sweet remix
of Judith. blushed to balance out the gore.
the chain-linked wallpaper stares back at
what seemed to be the only feeling left.
a lie stuffed under our beds for our good.
who’s the poor tyrant in our own Bethulia?
who’s lured us into this hunting, spooked
us into such a calamitous marriage?


Copyright © 2020 by A. H. Jerriod Avant. Originally published with the Shelter in Poems initiative on

About this Poem

"I saw Kehinde Wiley’s 'Judith and Holofernes' in the Spring of 2015 as part of Wiley’s 'New Republic' exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. I was immediately struck by the contrast of mutilation and the meticulous manner in which Wiley renders the painting. Wiley, at the very least, is having a conversation about European/white standards of beauty and how those standards have functioned and continue to function as agents of a kind of tyranny. I wanted to speak to tyranny, how it comes about and how one might decide to deal with it, as with the biblical story of Judith and Holofernes, which inspires thoughts of insurrection and the courage involved in the identification and naming of those tyrants."
A. H. Jerriod Avant


A. H. Jerriod Avant

A. H. Jerriod Avant is from Longtown, Mississippi. A graduate of Jackson State University, Avant has earned MFA degrees from Spalding University and New York University. He’s a recipient of residencies and scholarships from Vermont Studio Center, the Breadloaf Writer’s Conference and Naropa’s Summer Writing Program. Avant has received two winter poetry fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and a 2019 emerging artist grant from the St. Botolph Club Foundation. He curated a special series of Poem-a-Day from August 17–August 28, 2020 and is a PhD candidate at the University of Rhode Island.

Date Published: 2020-06-23

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