Monday, August 4, 2008

Entering the work

Mennonite poet (and friend) Jean Janzen has a wonderful memoir/essay interspersed with poems published in the Spring 2008 issue of Mennonite Life. What I like about the poem below, among many things, is the way she weaves her mother's presence into a Titian altarpiece she sees in Venice. In the painting, she sees "the image of my mother in a studio family photograph in which she holds her first daughter in her lap. Here she was in a city threatened by floods, like her ancestry, 'alive' and glowing." Somehow, though, the poem doesn't make the painting just a Rorschach of her past, but sets up a real exchange, a dialogue with the painter and the viewer. Here's the poem:

My Mother in Venice

She had another life,
not only the vast expanse
of prairie, but this island
adrift and shimmering.

Here she is, in the Frari Church
holding the Child.
Centuries ago Bellini
saw her at the fish market

shivering in the rain,
brought her to the small
fire of his studio
and began brushing her round

face into glow, dressing her in blue silk-my mother
in this city of mirrors
where the centuries swirl

together, where she still holds
the Child, my Brother, where she doesn't hold me.

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