Category Archives: art

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.

 

Blaze

 

Not so long ago, I inherited a coat that had belonged to a far-flung relative.  I learned a lot about him from what I found in the pockets.  The more I learned, the more I appreciated the man.  I wrote this villanelle in his honor.

 

Blaze

The coat is surely from his east coast days
those years in Boston no one talks about
when he untied the strings a thousand ways.

I find a matchbook from the nightclub BLAZE
unopened in a pocket – without doubt
the coat is surely from his east coast days.

I think of him on stage, the thick-breathed haze
above his head and how the crowd would shout
when he untied the strings a thousand ways,

so far from home, a farm boy in that maze
of all that drugs and rock n roll could spout.
The coat is surely from his east coast days

and now I smile to think of all the ways
he honored her along that sacred route
when he untied the strings a thousand ways.

I treasure every unstruck match that says
some people love home best by getting out.
The coat is surely from his east coast days
when he untied the strings a thousand ways.

 

Kenwood House

One of my favourite spots in North London is Kenwood House, home to a marvelous tea shop and an even better collection of fine art.  Among the jewels of the collection are two paintings, one by Rembrandt and one by Vermeer.  The Rembrandt is a late self-portrait, brooding and disheveled.  The Vermeer is youthful and filled with his particular gift of inner light.  Across a single room, the old man and the young woman have watched each other for years.  I wrote this rather loose-limbed triolet in their memory.

 
Kenwood House

The woman playing the guitar would smile
softly at the dark-dressed man who held brushes like keys.
There in the sunroom, I would come to stand quietly while
the woman playing the guitar would smile
luminous, radiant, knowing she was being watched, to beguile
the painter opposite – keeping her innocence across the centuries
the woman playing the guitar would smile
softly at the dark-dressed man who held brushes like keys.

 

High art

Did we really have to invite Pablo
to do our family portrait again?
It may be great art to you, but to me
it just looks like I have a double chin.

You and your favorite bohemians
will be the death of me yet, I swear it.
Like that time you asked your good pal Jackson
to paint the kitchen while we were away…

I will admit that the senior portraits
you got Mr. Mapplethorpe to whip up
for Bryce were unique – but could we send them
to my folks in Kansas? I don’t think so!

So how about this, Mr. Art Lover?
Next time, we make a trip down to Wal Mart
and let some teenage kid take our photo,
squinting cheek-to-cheek, like normal people?

(…a little midweek musing to share with friends over at the dVerse Poet’s Pub)

The naked truth

(Hendrickje bathing, by Rembrandt, 1654)

I swear by all that’s holy
If you keep stepping on there
It will steal your soul.

When you lose, you feel uneasy
When you don’t, you feel worse
And all the time you look the same to me

Stepping radiant from the shower,
Torrents streaming from your hair
Like a goddess at her bath.

Hendrickje never had a bathroom scale
Neither did Venus on her half-shell
And you surpass them both.

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