Fra Angelico was definitely a man.
How many times did he paint her
caught at that improbable moment,
troubled, we’re told, by that impossible greeting,
and in every one of his images her face is piously calm.
Only a man
could think she would be placid,
could think, “What an honor
to be asked to do the impossible;
how right and just to accept with quiet dignity,”
completely skipping over
the terror that precedes the choice.
He missed the critical moment,
the flight of sentiments in her face:
“How can this be?
What will I tell him?
But how could I refuse?”
Only a man would delight
in the stillness beyond the “yes”
the struggle to shape the word.
I saw the Michelangelo once.
It was all I’d gone to St. Peter’s for,
and when everyone else ran off to Mass
my Buddhist friend and I
at the statue.
I never asked him what he saw in Buonarroti’s carving:
the mother broadened by the years
with her baby on her lap once more,
that big, grown man laid out
across knees that surely could not bear his weight.
Once, yes, they had borne him
through the months of gestation,
then through the years of babyhood
before he grew in wisdom and coordination,
and perhaps after that when he was hurt
or had fallen asleep outside his bed.
Even after that, when he was too big to be carried,
he could sit in her lap,
perhaps when troubled by his difference from other children,
or while she pondered his very being in her heart.
And then no more
I wonder how Zen one can be in the face of such a thing.
I didn’t ask him, friends though we were,
what he saw in this image of someone else’s god.
I looked away first.
I had to,
or weep in public for a God I did not then believe in.
Now I do,
and can pray
that what she bore—
Michelangelo knew mother love—
may never happen to me.
I notice it’s the women who are calm.
Restout, I grant you, saw his ladies clearly.
The menfolk look, as men are wont to do.
confused and terrified,
confronted with a power that says,
“Be my bride.
Submit, and have no will but mine.
Permit my force to dwell in you
and breed of you
things heretofore unseen.”
The men are panicking,
cowering before these tongues of flame
that lick and taste and devour them wholly.
She, on the other hand, is calm;
she has been here before.
Someday these men will raise their eyes to Heaven
with her same confidence:
“Yes. And again yes.
After everything, still I say,
Be it done unto me
again and again and again.”
Kate Bluett is a writer from Irving, Texas. She graduated from the University of Dallas in ‘01 (and again in ‘06) and writes for Salvo magazine and its blog, Signs of the Times.