The Combing


After Piero Della Francesca, ‘Mary Magdalene’, Arezzo Cathedral


It’s not Catherine, it’s Magdalene, you say.

He turns away, glassy with destiny,

smelling of za’atar, rosemary and old fish.

He’s worn the same mank robe since

the big city shows at Nazareth and Tyre.

You walk the road of your own myth,

she says, tiredly. Payoffs abound;

Lazaraus is still performing; rabid minders

pay fishermen to consolidate their catch,

convince towns of miracle trawls.

Bemused, he touches your newly-washed hair,

forces your head down in the blue dusk.

Sighing, you wrap damp copper locks

about his blistered feet, as his eyes roll back.

Ah Catherine! he says, shuddering peace coming

over him, then sleep. You stare at him awhile.


There’s a boat to France,you say. But the Sea

of Galilee’s a lake. You, and only you, map

the bitter greens of mythic landscape

and geographic actuality. The space between.

Dreams of oak forests in pale light,

the loveless mysteries of new places.

If he can’t help you now, he never will.


When he wakes, you’re impatient

with his dessicated self-regard.

You shake his arm, a last bid:

Gethsemane’s a garden of deceit; come with me now

or lose it all – lover, father, friends, myth. Take the boat

at Galilee; then overland to the great sea at Akziv. Come!


But he’s already hieratic, distant in the way of art,

of those requiring followers, immortal outcomes.

Night forestalls. Red-gold haze suffuses his hands,

head and heart. A new trick, you think, though

the first Florentine painter hasn’t been born.

O flame-haired disciple, he says, tender with it.

Be with me and in me. The bridal moon,

swathed bone white, mouths indignation.

I was never that stupid, you say, before leaving.


Years later, your ringlets are still damp as the day.

You have no memory of walking from sea to sea.

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