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
SAINT PETER RELEASED FROM PRISON
whether you read from left
to right (sent howling
from the garden where
the stories all begin) or simply
as gaps in the crowd
permit, the pillars of the
chapel will have told you
how to navigate. on one side
pair of them driven like
cattle, her face with its
sockets of grief. and on
the other side the premise still
or is it promise? Where
the sword and angel
haven’t yet obscured
the sky. You’re thinking it’s all
lost on me, you’ve smiled
to find me sleeping while
the prisoner goes free.
But some must rest while others
i’ve sorted the whole thing
out. Four panels, yes?
a child could do the
algebra: made free, in chains, in
made free. Remorse, which
you call history, set
in motion by the paradox.
how many people contribute as
My sword, unlike the angel’s,
sheathed, my charge an open
door. the saint required to
suffer where you see him, extramurally.
THE BAPTISM OF THE NEOPHYTES
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.
This article available online at: