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.