Adventures in ekphrasis*

Mary at the Cathedral of St. Matthew, Washington, DC.


She is completed only when I kneel.
From the blue alcove she leans over me
Suspended by the grace of God (or maybe
Concrete nails), voluptuous in stone,
All wind-blown folds and curls.
                                                  She wants my hand.
She’s reaching for it, palms curving like mine,
The tender tension bending her fingers,
The right extended toward me, then the left
Directing to the tiled heaven at
Her back.
                  She’s ample. Fleshy. Skirt hiked up
Toward her strong thighs – an interrupted motion
On her way to wash, or plant, or touch.
One shoulder drops, exposed. She wears no bra;
Her breasts fall full, as subject to the march
Of time and mothering as mine.
                                                  Her eyes,
However: blank. The Lady has a soul,
Yet it dies out between her nose and brow.
Her figure teems with life, yet she presents
As blind.
                Are we meant not to bond with her?
Is she merely a conduit, a bridge
That rises on the hour, every hour,
To propel us sinful vehicles
Past her mantilla’d head into the wall
Where we might be squashed flat but, man,
The ride was worth it?
                                    I believe her more
Than infrastructure. She wants me. I, her.
And if I stand now, clear the kneeler, clamber
Up the stone, I know it will feel warm.

Prayer #262: Warmth in the Stone

Enrich me with each successive viewing. Suspend me in that space between "yes" and "fine," between when I choose to choose you and when I consign myself to the glorious calamity of being bound to earth.

I am no blind-faith fool. I see what sits before me; it is a thing and I will name it as such. Yet this thing has a reality beyond its form, and I will name that as well.

So engage me, the grubby supplicant with sore knees and wandering attention. Come down from the pedestal, coursing with life, and gather me up with disregard for propriety.

I began by kneeling to you. I evolved by contemplating you. Let me end by embracing you -- flesh around faith.



* An ekphrastic poem is one that comments on another art form, such as painting, sculpture, or photography. I wrote the poem above as part of my current graduate school class. The prayer draws from my professor's contemplative response.