Published on Academy of American Poets (

Madonna del Parto

And then smelling it,
feeling it before
the sound even reaches
him, he kneels at
cliff’s edge and for the
first time, turns his
head toward the now
visible falls that
gush over a quarter-
mile of uplifted sheet-
granite across the valley
and he pauses,
lowering his eyes
for a moment, unable
to withstand the
tranquility—vast, unencumbered,
terrifying, and primal. That
naked river
enthroned upon
the massif altar,
bowed cypresses
congregating on both
sides of sun-gleaming rock, a rip
in the fabric of the ongoing
forest from which rises—
as he tries to stand, tottering, half-
paralyzed—a shifting
rainbow volatilized by
ceaseless explosion.


Copyright © 2018 by Forrest Gander. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 8, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“The Madonna del Parto, a fresco painted by Piero della Francesca, depicts the pregnant Virgin Mary—her blue gown split open suggestively. My late wife, the poet C. D. Wright, and I saw it together in Monterchi, Italy. Grieving her loss and spending time alone in wilderness areas, I had a vision of the green forest split open by a waterfall—the sound of the distant falls converted into fountains of color as sunlight reflected from wet spray.”
—Forrest Gander


Forrest Gander

Forrest Gander is the author of several poetry collections, including Be With (New Directions, 2018), winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. He currently serves on the Board of Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets. 

Date Published: 2018-08-08

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