Saturday, November 24, 2007

Two by Stephen Frech

Poet Stephen Frech has written an entire collection of poems based on the life and paintings of Rembrandt. A number of these could be seen as, in part, ekphrastic midrash, a faithful, fervent troubling of scripture for meaning and insight through the further refraction/commentary of Rembrandt's many biblical paintings. Here are two.

Christ at Emmaus—Stephen Frech

One asked the stranger to divide the bread
and the flame wavered as if a breeze crept in.
Pausing for a moment, the inn’s day done,
he listened to the distant kitchen clatter,
a woman bent over a basin
scrubbing the day’s grime from new pots—
tomorrow, who can discern yesterday’s from today’s?

So the stranger took the loaf in both hands,
measured with his thumbs the seam
where he intended to break it,
showed it to one many saying, “This is for you.”
As the crust tore, the cup tipped
and spilled its wine that ran the length
and seeped through the cracks of the table’s planks.

Knowing him at last, am I the one froze in surprise
or the other, fallen to my knees, my eyes cast down
seeing some far field I’ve never lost sight of
and that, if only I’d set out, a day’s walking
would have brought to me.

The Adoration of The Shepherds—Stephen Frech

They entered slowly like birds wanting bread.
Unlike any other seed they know,
it stirs a hunger a day of feeding won’t sate,
a longing so desperate that, skittish, with quick eyes
watchful for the other fist,
they risk feeding from your hand.

The smell of the barn fouled the nostrils:
the day had been long and hot,
the animals labored hard.
Crushed bindweed dried on the hooves of cattle;
the horse’s collar hung on the wall,
its padded leather still damp and rip with horse brine.
And hay, just on the far side of fermenting,
spike the air and kept the cows dreamy and docile.

An old man carries a dim lamp into the light of the barn
and the flame is merely flame now—a busy sliver.
It hardly casts shadows of its own;
its light barely reaches the rotting loft boards.

He hadn’t expected this, not at all:
a new mother, so young and at ease
with the baby as only young mothers can be,
generous with all the strangers craning to take a look.
She doesn’t know—how could she?
The shadow on her breast is only of her hand.

from If Not for These Wrinkles of Darkness (White Pine Press, 2001

No comments: