Skip to content →

Sharing a Painting

(“Madonna and Child with Two Angels,”

Piero della Francesca)

For half an hour we had the painting

mostly to ourselves,

and the longer we stood there

taking it in together,

the more the people drifting

around us seemed to disappear.

We spoke quietly

when we spoke at all,

as though trying not to discomfort

the Mother and Child, though they

seemed imperturbable,

inhabiting a world apart,

along with the two angels

who stood behind them on either side,

vigilant, looking in different

directions, like (I said)

celestial Secret Service agents.

The one in the blue robe, head globed

as though in a space helmet,

fixed us in his gaze and seemed

to be guarding a back room

that you said looked inviting,

illuminated by a slanting beam

of tangible sunlight.

I couldn’t help remarking

that the basket of gauze cloth

behind the other angel

looked like a pie topped with meringue

placed on an upper shelf to cool,

beyond the reach of mortals.

We marveled at the tenderness

of Mary’s delicate fingers

cradling the feet of the Child,

who appeared to weigh

several pounds less

than if he’d been part of our world.

He shared his mother’s

pensive serenity,

had the face of an old man

he would never live to be,

and wore a coral pendant

like a branching artery.

He held his right hand up

as if to call for silence.

But we were done with talking.

It was just the two of us

and the four of them

in that unearthly stillness.

from Between LakesFind more by Jeffrey Harrison at the library

Copyright © 2020 Jeffrey Harrison
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

Published in Jeffrey Harrison Poems

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.