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

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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
Lady-in-waiting
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.

 

Year 24: Nothing says I love you like a banjo

kermit banjopicture from GitBox Culture

 

For my beautiful wife, on our wedding anniversary. Not the most romantic of sonnets, but consider the alternatives.  This year was supposed to be a silver plate, and next year a musical instrument.  Just what we need around the house, another instrument!  Anyway, I love you dear – this one’s just for you.

 

Year 24: Nothing says I love you like a banjo

Well, they came up with an impressive list
of anniversary presents to go
alongside the traditional gifts. So
now any guy can make a decent fist
of getting her what she’ll love. You promised
to cherish her always? Then why not show
it year by year, using the plan below?
(It’s kind of goofy, but you get the gist).

First ten years: paper, cotton, leather, fruit
wood, sugar, copper, bronze, pottery, tin.
So far so good. Then things disintegrate
until she’s just got a grab-bag of loot:
sculpture, watches, cars, glasses, But then, in
year forty-six, A POEM. I can’t wait!

 

Seventeen

Seventeen

It’s a whirlwind season in my home life. Graduations, college preparation, combing through old pictures, casting off items we forget we had and certainly will never use again.  Everyone is drifting – not in a bad way.  But we are definitely coming un-stuck from each other.  There is nothing to prepare you for this kind of pulling apart.  Everything tastes bittersweet.

In the middle of all of this, I wrote a villanelle – about change, and love, and seeing the ones we love with new eyes. For my father, for Father’s Day.

 

Seventeen

Suddenly, he won’t talk to me:
He’s become a steel curtain.
It’s just the way I used to be

with my father, too, half angry,
half amused at the old cretin.
Suddenly, he won’t talk to me

about even simple things. We
are strangers more than next-of-kin.
It’s just the way I used to be –

I remember the agony
of this age – the man-trap he’s in.
Suddenly, he won’t talk to me

except on days he needs money,
and really, is that such a sin?
It’s just the way I used to be!

I don’t take it personally –
this is a game a dad can’t win.
Suddenly, he won’t talk to me –
it’s just the way I used to be.

 

Castro Camera

Castro Camera

This past week was Harvey Milk Day.  Milk was an amazing man, a flawed hero, a great gift and a significant loss.   I wrote this short piece last November in his honor.

 

Castro Camera

He was just another Lithuanian-American
Jewish boy who played football and joined the navy
a straight-laced actuary who loved the opera
and kept private matters private.
But then came San Francisco.

He said, “I finally reached the point
when I had to become involved or shut up.”

On Castro Street he flowered
turning to his neighborhood
unflinching in his call for civil rights
Ten months a Supervisor, till his
shocking death, November 27, 1978.

He said, “If a bullet should enter my brain,
let that bullet destroy every closet door.”

After the trial, the White Nights
the riots and the beatings
they laid his ashes to rest
beneath the sidewalk at 575 Castro.
He was my age, more or less.

 

Harvey Milk Day poster

 

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