Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Virgin and Child with St Anne and St John the Baptist

Leonardo cartoon

It was a bit over five hundred years ago that Leonardo da Vinci drew the cartoon shown above. It is thought to have been a study for a larger religious painting, but apparently that work never came to be. As it is, the cartoon has developed a life of its own as a master work, and is now displayed in a special room in the National Gallery in London. I’ve always loved this picture – as much for its flaws as for its perfection. Here’s my modest tribute.


The Virgin and Child with St Anne and St John the Baptist

For starters, it’s not clear to me
whose legs belong to whom – is Mary
sitting side-saddle or on-the-stool?
I get that Jesus is blessing his cousin
but how come he has a receding hairline?
And that hand – the oversized one pointing
at the sky like it’s just dredged something
improbable from one of the kids’ nostrils
– did Leonardo forget to draw it first time round?
Then there’s Anne’s black eye – no one
is talking about that – but it’s pretty obvious.
And why, oh why, is no one wearing a shirt?
With that much gauzy fabric hanging around,
the least Mary can do is cover up a bit.
They call it a cartoon,
but I don’t think it’s very funny.



Sonnet: Talking on the phone to the mother of two pre-schoolers


Written with the greatest admiration for anyone who works at home looking after small children. How y’all get anything done is a minor miracle. Apart from, you know, EVERYTHING which you somehow squeeze into those odd 30-second snatches of free time.


Sonnet: Talking on the phone to the mother of two pre-schoolers

…so maybe we could all do a picnic
next Tuesday, unless Lauren has a thing
(don’t put that there). Let me give you a ring
when Jack gets up from his nap – he was sick
yesterday at church, you know. (Do NOT pick
at that scab). (Tomato juice). What? Oh, bring
him over, sure. He can practice climbing
the back steps. (Don’t hit Rufus with that stick).

Books? Are you kidding? Like ones with a plot?
(That’s beautiful! Don’t lick your brother’s nose).
By now I’d gladly trade everything by
Anne Tyler for a shower alone. Not
even with Brad Pitt! Ha ha…. that just shows
why I got him fixed! (Pickles). Oh Lord – bye!


July 29, 1981

wedding 1981Photo credit: 80s Actual

For whatever reason, I seem to be on a royal streak (flush?) right now. Here’s a brief memory of events from 32 years ago. Britain in the late 70s and early 80s was pretty conflicted (think strikes and riots and punk rock, not just tea and crumpets) – and what better to point this out than a massively expensive wedding at St Paul’s Cathedral?

July 29, 1981

The morning of the wedding, the TV
room was abuzz with royalists. Eileen
on the settee, a cockney queen. The rest

of us stayed in the kitchen drinking tea,
making snide comments about the Prince’s
large ears and the dangers of inbreeding.

Later, I listened from my bedroom as
the bride got the groom’s name wrong. It was an
omen, although we didn’t know it then,

her unending white dress flowing down and
out the door like a slick of North Sea oil,
just one more ’80s excess to regret.


Six senryu of Henry VIII

Henry VIII

Despite recent hoopla about the birth of a baby, I’m not convinced it ever makes sense to marry into the Royal Family. Witness this brief history of the marriages of King Henry VIII.   Written for Poetic Asides, in senryu form.


Six senryu of Henry VIII

I. Catherine of Aragon
Queen of earthly Queens
ditched after twenty-three years
for someone younger.

II. Anne Boleyn
In less than three years
he had her executed
on trumped-up charges.

III. Jane Seymour
to Anne, and Henry’s mistress.
Died after childbirth.

IV. Anne of Cleves
Married for six months.
Never even slept with him.
She got off lightly.

V. Catherine Howard
An adulteress?
Like her cousin Anne Boleyn
she soon lost her head.

VI. Catherine Parr
Henry’s third cousin,
put his house in order, and
outlived the bugger.


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