James Matthew Wilson
The frescos in St. Dominic’s chapel show
Dimly beneath imaginary dust.
The first is brightly painted, blue and gold,
With some young man at court run riotous
And drunk before the woman he would love,
Her face benign or scornfully unaware.
Along the edges, where the breath of prayer
Gnaws at the grains of paint, one will find there,
Watching with dull eyes, four gray devils, who
At first, seem but the accidents of decay.
Each lifts its claw to slash at emblems of
Virtues the man’s forgotten anyway.
Another shows a studious friar bowed
At prayer, his blue acrylic eyes averted
From the Toulousian streets, where light and laughter
Rage in the bacchanals of the unconverted.
A woman gowned in basalt blue and crowned
With the cracked golden nimbus art requires
To gloss the stillness of its fleshly forms
With sign of holiness, extends some briars
Wound in a crown about five drops of blood
To her who’d love the drunken lout. Now close
Against her breast, the crown appears in those
Frescos to follow, she knelt lachrymose
In meditation on this spiritual figure.
We almost certainly are meant to see
Her visit the young man within his sleep,
Begging him for his soul’s sake to get free
Of his foul sins. Then, in the afternoon,
She shows to him the meaning of the crown
He cannot see, for it is laced about
The inner ardor of her heart.
Of sordid laughter, silent always here,
In the fourth detail, where bald Dominic
Prays, nonetheless seems loud like hound and horns,
While he, in penance beats himself with thick
Cords of rope. In the fresco, this saint’s blood
Seems separate, super-imposed, as if it were
The real blood of the man. He’s fallen still
Beneath its shiny clot and lashing spur.
The fifth one shows him tall, awake once more.
He has forgotten sacrificial pain
Scored in his back, for, near him, Mary stands.
She holds the lash and offers him this gain,
The beaded circle of the rosary.
If you should step within this chapel door—
If you looked close and it were a real door—
You’d find a few lines quoted from Montfort:
Mary who came to me, by her faith, come,
Oh Wisdom Heaven-sent that she became.
Come, she who manifests you on the earth,
Yet leaps still upward like a rising flame.
Excerpted from “Verse Letter to My Mother,” in
Some Permanent Things: Second, Revised and Expanded, Edition.