Door wide open.
A dove's gold music
came through the wall.
but not books.
On the arch
a smaller person asks the larger
to be good to him or her,
to tell the truth,
When such things happen
God is directly overhead:
a gold stain
in a plain sky.
Angel and prelate are kneeling here:
The prelate is a saint but who?
Somebody knows his name
What a young face he has,
younger than the angel's even
who lives in the quietest suburb of time.
The angel's headband
looks like the uraeus,
Egypt serpent wisdom roused
the halo hardly fits.
There is a quiet argument--
a lily or a city
which is the best gift?
And who is giving?
There seems to be no end
to what this picture is talking about.
In all this beauty
the mind can find no rest.
But what a beautiful street
we also live on.
And she is reading a book.
She probably thinks
all the gold behavior round her,
the ray that finds and pierces her
the ecstasy that fills her up
is happening in her head
because of what she's reading,
that everything comes
out of this rapturous text
before which she's actually kneeling
as if reading is the same as praying.
Or tell me how it's different.
The golden dove-line
lands in her forehead.
(How is it different?)
She is reading
the ancient history of this very moment.
Everything is written
in the act of reading.
Long skinny fingers
across her breast.
Reverent she bends forward--
but maybe a little bit
she is protecting her body
from the insolent moment, the god.
Angel and other one waiting outside,
waiting for the golden bee-line
to do its work.
She is captured by what she thinks,
she kneels before the word.
They kneel outside, each on one knee only
ready for flight
or to rise in copious explanation
of what she knows already
better than they ever could
though it is they who will rise,
step through the open door and tell.
Later. A city on a hill.
Or an angel's naked hand
to comfort and tell.
Qui venit, tell, qui venit
tell who is coming
in nomine Domini, tell
a mass by Fux, the time
is wrong, the words are right,
the golden light
falling through the wall
tells her someone is coming
she'll have to know the name
she'll make it up, who comes,
who is coming
to me now, coming in the name
of the Lord, coming down
along the circuits of the name
and speaking into me now?
I hear the mass but there are no prayers in the picture,
angel and pontiff, teacher and student,
lover and seducer, orator and those to be persuaded,
all of it is striving, dealing, merchandising,
all except this little girl praying
who is striving only with herself
and the slender golden line
that means her such exquisite harm.
The number of people in the picture
So do the birds.
The birds fly in and out, the birds settle and unsettle.
Sometimes there's a bird for every person,
sometimes fewer sometimes more.
Birds are like that, all in and out.
People are so slow, though,
weighed down with identity and other merchandise.
How many people are there tonight?
Four, or only three, in the far-off courtyard.
A garden is beyond the furthest wall
and surely there are even more people in there
hidden from me, safe,
taking their ease, having no cares, indifferent
to this girl and her book, to angel and dove.
And maybe one of them looks like the gardener.
Tonight I can see thirteen birds
counting the Holy Ghost.
The numbers are not always the same.
Sixteen human figures
counting an angel a bishop
and a child. Is a bishop
human? Is a child?
For a long time I thought that far off
beyond the garden wall was a tower,
a curious rounded pagoda shaped affair,
a faint pale lingam in the Lombard air.
Tonight with a magnifying glass I see
that it's a tree, bent systematically
to the left, like a larch or deodar,
so the downward leftward curve of each
branch shapes by occult lines
(Klee's phrase, from his Sketch Book)
the shape of the tower, just as before.
What a strange way to treat a tree,
Crivelli. To make me see an orient
in the ordinary. Half of me lives in it
already, making the best I can
of your transparent walls.
One woman just appeared tonight,
she walked into a small doorway
in the middle distance and seems
uncertain of whether to stand there
or continue her indoor stroll.
She moves at right angles to the door.
Going where. (And one new bird too,
a dove in a little pigeonhole
far up the stucco wall.) The woman
might be reading something or
looking at her keys. The door's open.
There's some funny business with a line
that cuts across her hip and continues
across the street, running down the brick.
What am I to make of this? She wears
a tall hat, almost a miter or a crown.
I want to think she is reading
exactly what I am writing now.
And here it is.
A bird in the house.
must be happening.
All the normal registers
in houses. God
in a girl's womb.
Our family has a geis, a curse or condition or taboo,
that says: no living bird in the house.
When my grandfather lay sick, a neighbor
brought two pigeons in to kill for pie.
Upstairs, far out of sight, my grandfather
rose up in bed, cried Get those birds
out of my house, and died.
There is a pale, grayish Adriatic light
about the day. The glory
down which the dove rides to find her
comes not from the sky
but from a hole in the sky
like the upside-down image
of water splashing up
when a stone falls into the pond.
Something has fallen
upward into heaven
and let the light out.
The light runs down
to take refuge in a girl.
The book she is reading,
I can't see the page.
It engrosses her intelligence,
the bird will have a hard time
getting her attention.
I want to see the page beneath her gaze.
Is the book she's reading
the same book she will have been reading later,
a book in the wind, a candle
flickering in daylight
beyond the dead body she holds
years and years later, who knows
how many, in the Brera Pietà?
It is open on a bookstand
beyond Saint John.
For all we know, the Virgin's eyes
might still be fixed on the page,
far-sighted eyes of an old woman
now, easier to focus on the distant book
than the skin a few inches away,
body of her dead son.
Are these two paintings
images of the same instant,
perils of reading, perils
of letting an idea into the mind,
a bird into the house?
The book she was reading
in the Annunciation contains
the whole history of what is to come.
This moment is wrapped in that moment,
as securely as death is wrapped in birth,
as the Redemption is wrapped in the Incarnation.
Are all books contained in any book?
Learning how to read
(bend your body to the page,
it is the body that reads
the real meaning of the words,
the eyes just dance).
We could rename this painting
"The Reading Lesson,"
all the classes of society,
wild life, birds of the air
all flock to one who reads
to tell her what is there,
there, beneath her dancing eyes,
her slim intelligent mouth
that will hold whatever secrets
the page discloses. The page
before her, the page Crivelli
sets before me. But when I look
at Page 237 in Zampetti's monograph
I see the actual page
the mother reads beyond the son
it looks like a page of Mirsuvian
Calligraphy, my 'own' invention,
the invention of anyone who wants to write
and has no words, squiggles of writing-like
worms and angles, red and black,
writing that only the soul can understand,
writing the other side of language.
Signs that are signs of nothing
or only of what happens in my head
when I look through the flicker
at the red questions and the black answers.
Whatever it is they see there
it makes the dreamy girl imagine,
makes the old woman weep to understand.
What she read lies cold beneath her hand.
Who is that scruffy character,
you can practically smell him,
making the universal gesture of
transaction, pay me, gimme,
hand open demanding
from the comfortable big fellow
examining something this vendor
--that's what he must be, the runt,
caveat emptor! --has offered --
it looks like Confederate money--
or is he selling what's in the crate
--a monkey or yet another bird --
or else the shapely tree in a tree-pot,
is life for sale?
This is the Renaissance,
everything is for sale. The poor man
is greedy (that's why he's poor --
does Ficino tell us this, or Bruno?),
ill-dressed, his hair a mess.
Yet this transaction is directly underneath
the glory of God.
These characters (dubious seller,
too-comfortable doubtful buyer)
are closer to the Divine Light
than Mary is. What does this mean?
The class struggle
is the meaning of history.
Any light there is in the picture
the conflict, the scruffy
poor man and the glib aristo.
They are us, rich and poor,
big and little, prosperous and needy,
greedy, on rooftops which are arches
which are bridges over spaces
which are roads from one wall
to another, who live in houses
but stand outside them terrified,
not even one of them looking
up at the sky, we stand in areaways
in alleys in courtyards between
one house of life and another,
we are them, the ordinary everybody
for whose sake this whole bizarre
business of a bird from heaven,
virgin mother, god on scaffold,
dead man talking with his friends,
a book comes on a visit, a book
no one can understand, all of it,
everything comes down. Comes
for us. Sometimes businessmen
haggle to keep from crying.
From doing what we always do.