On a plaster cast of my father’s teeth
Your mouth is now a monument,
a stone henge,
the four incisors you had, like slanted
monoliths, surround the shallow descent
where your tongue once rose & spoke, enchanted
afternoons with inside joke & anecdote.
Dad, forgive me as I soliloquize,
holding the model of your teeth, & dote
(poor Yorick’s skull), & memento-morize,
but we both knew (indeed, it was implied)
I’d write a poem to lavish praise on
your teeth, if you left them to me after you died.
Even a Shakespeare or a Sidney blazon
dismembers the body it wants to touch.
you never liked my poems much.
When the Carracci in proposition of their virtuosity
contrived for a painting of Christ after His Deposition,
they arranged the corpse to be seen from below
alone, spread across cloth on a marble slab
without ceremony, without Cross, with neither
mourners nor tomb, receding instead into shadows
of the shallow space, the only context
two glinting nails, pliers, and the crown of thorns,
the implements of the crucifiers’ trade,
and so His body, thus foreshortened, is made strange:
Christ approached from the soles of His feet, filthy, each toe
massively sculptural in the depth of relief, upwards
to His legs, too short, contorted by perspective, drawing
our gaze too much to the painting’s center, the juncture
of his torso and legs, where modesty’s cloth has been laid.
On the stone beside, a wrist hovers above the hand
to suggest lift, that He might still breathe,
but the body, propped, is a pale canvas for blood, caught pouring
from fresh wounds, slow scarlet across the chest haloed
in disembodied light for rounded musculature. All of this is achieved
on a quickened line, the body’s rising pose, the fabric’s deft ascent
streaked face-ward in folds, but then there it ends
at the head, swoops to an eyebrow, jaw, and cheek,
a tenebroso mouth, daubed white to hint teeth in a grimace,
but with the eyes closed, a truncated gaze, so instead
we gaze on the feet and instruments included and arranged
as self-assuredly as tools of the artists’ trade;
if it weren’t for those—and the light, guided by the artists
so His body flaunts their mastery of chiaroscuro—
this would be a body in a dark room.
And so the artists painted what now is Baroque
with oil, linseed, casement, crushed root.
Amy Sailer’s poetry appears or will soon appear in Cincinnati Review, Hotel Amerika, New South, Meridian, and Sycamore Review, where it won the 2020 Wabash Poetry Prize. She’s a Ph.D. student at the University of Utah and a teacher at Interlochen Summer Arts Camp.