In front of the John Lennon Wall in Prague.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Dancing With The Madonna

One of my favorite paintings in the world is in one of my favorite places in the world:  the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.  The painting in question is in the room with Botticelli’s famous “Primavera” and “The Birth of Venus”.  Those two paintings are so popular that the room is always packed with people - even those who have no deep interest in art.  I remember my second visit to the Uffizi – I was traveling alone so I had been spending as much time as possible in museums and churches, soaking up art to my heart’s content. There was no one to beg me to leave, but also no one to share my experiences with.  Every time I turned from a piece of art, excited to see it again, my only companion was my notebook - that trusty shield that protects all solitary travelers.  However, as long as I had the paintings, I could be content. But on this day I couldn’t get near enough to see because of a tour group that flocked together in front of the naked Venus clothed only in her blonde hair.  They made me more than a bit cranky so I sat on a bench to wait them out. This is usually an easy thing to do since most people look at art for so short a time. I sat there feeling - I confess this freely - smug and superior to these "check it off my list" type of tourists.

            On this day, that wait was fortuitous because I had to make do with gazing at the other Botticelli paintings in the room – no less beautiful – but much less famous.  Perhaps because they are subtler, they take longer contemplation.  One in particular caught my eye. Titled “Madonna of the Pomegranate,” what drew my attention was the expression on the Madonna’s face.  Usually Mary is depicted with a sweet, pensive look or even a bit of sadness – as if she were well aware of the end of her story.  But this Mary, instead of gazing joyfully or lovingly at the heavy baby clasped in her arms, looked downright bored.  And why was she holding a pomegranate?  It made me remember my childhood obsession with Greek and Roman myths, of Persephone and her ill-fated bite of the pomegranate that kept her half the year in Hades. It made me curious enough to find out that in Christian iconography the pomegranate is a symbol of resurrection and eternal life (Symbols in Christian Art & Architecture  In light of that, her expression is even more intriguing. Forgetting my own loneliness, I sat there a long time. Just what was Mary thinking?   

Madonna of the Pomegranate
- A painting by Sandro Botticelli in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy

I have waited here for centuries,
clasping this heavy infant in my lap,
beset by the whispers of angels –
always words of
praise and adoration,
alleluia and Ave Maria.
Glory becomes tedious.

Sometimes I think the child
teases me holding
a pomegranate in his hand,
its ripe skin split to reveal its seeds –
glistening rosary beads
which tempt me
to seize something for myself.

Visitors no longer notice me,
never puzzle the meaning
of the strange fruit
my son carries.
They would much rather exult
in the riot of Spring,
the brilliance of Venus.

I long to shake off these stiff robes,
clothe myself in waves,
strew my hair with roses and dianthus.
I’d like to sink my teeth deep
into the pomegranate,
roll the seeds across my tongue,
be-rouge my lips with juice.

To relieve my monotony,
I’d relish anything,
even welcome
the revelation of fear.
How lucky was Persephone!

                             (Poem originally published in my chapbook, In the Poem an Ocean, Big Table Publishing Co. 2012)

1 comment:

  1. Lisa, in addition to loving the poem and the post, I could so relate to the "trusty shield" of one's notebook when far from home (I suppose even at home, or even especially at home...that notebook's never far out of reach).