Poetry Fiction 2009

Two Poems

Images: (1) Adam and Eve Banished from Paradise (2) St. Peter Baptising the Neophytes: Frescos by Thommaso Masaccio, Brancacci Chapel, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence, Italy/The Bridgeman Art Library


So whether you read from left
     to right (sent howling

     from the garden where
the stories all begin) or simply

wander as gaps in the crowd
     permit, the pillars of the

     chapel will have told you
how to navigate. on one side

the pair of them driven like
     cattle, her face with its

     sockets of grief. and on
the other side the premise still

unspoilt. or is it promise? Where
     the sword and angel

     haven’t yet obscured
the sky. You’re thinking it’s all

been lost on me, you’ve smiled
     to find me sleeping while

     the prisoner goes free.
But some must rest while others

watch, i’ve sorted the whole thing
     out. Four panels, yes?

     a child could do the
algebra: made free, in chains, in

chains, made free. Remorse, which
     you call history, set

     in motion by the paradox.
how many people contribute as

much? My sword, unlike the angel’s,
     sheathed, my charge an open

     door. the saint required to
suffer where you see him, extramurally.


He knelt because the others knelt. And
      nothing was odd about that except,
unlike the others, he seemed to know

nothing of shame. Which quite astonished
      me. Not brazened-it-out, or
wrapped-himself-in-pridefulness (the surest

sign of struggle), simply free, by what
      conjunction of insight or
ignorance I am still at a loss to imagine,

from the universal misery of fitting-in-
      the-body. We were many
on the hillside, the waters ran shallow

for him as for everyone else, we thought
      this meant nothing to hide.
And it was then I knew the messenger.

For some of us, the treachery’s half the
      getting there, we have to be
flayed by our own bad faith. And hence

the scene of washing. You’ll remember
      we still thought it had no
limit, that the water and the air it came

from came unendingly, and clean.
      We thought we had fouled
ourselves alone. And then the young one

came and knelt and I could see
      the whole equation, what
we’d gained by it and what we had agreed

to lose. We’d meant to do better by
      those who came after,
that was both the pity and the point.

Presented by

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus


The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"


This Japanese Inn Has Been Open For 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.


What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.


Is Minneapolis the Best City in America?

No other place mixes affordability, opportunity, and wealth so well.

More in Entertainment

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In