Those who've been reading here for a while know that my favorite painting is Fra Angelico's Annunciation, hanging at San Marco, a monastery in Florence, Italy, and that I wrote an essay years ago about it that was published online at Slow Trains. Tonight, I was sitting in Sophie's room with her at the most brilliant part of the day when the sun shines through her window and illuminates everything. I took a series of photos of Sophie that, to me, caught her luminous beauty perfectly.
Then I sat on the floor in front of her, and she reached over and touched my hair, played with it, tentatively. I sat in shadow, held my breath.
The poet Mary Szybist has a collection called Incarnadine whose poems are inspired by the Annunciation -- which for those of you who don't know, is when the Angel Gabriel descends from heaven and approaches the virgin Mary to tell her that she will bear the son of God. The back of the book describes the collection like this:
Through the lens of an iconic moment, the Annunciation of an unsettling angel to a bodily young woman, Szybist describes the confusion and even terror of moments in which our longing for the spiritual may also be a longing for what is most fundamentally alien to us.
I don't know why this book, that painting came to mind when I sat with Sophie in the sunlight and shadows. Perhaps it was because of the great silence that is Sophie, her tentative grace, the way she is bathed in light yet at once so dark and mysterious, my own longing for the numinous, to bestow meaning and light despite that darkness and mystery.
Heroine as She Turns to Face Me
Just before the curtain closes, she turns
toward, me, loosening
her gauzy veil & bright hair --
This, she seems to say, this
to create scene, the pure sweep of it,
this to give in, feel the lushness,
this & just a little theatrical lighting
& you, too, can be happy,
she's sure of it --
It's as if I cut her heart-whole from the sky,
rag & twist & tongue & the now terrible speed
of her turning
toward me like the spirit
I meant to portray, indefatigable --
see how bravely she turns, how exactly true to the turning,
& in the turning
as she arranges herself for the exit
withholding nothing, unraveling
the light in her hair as her face
her bright, unapproachable face
says only that
whatever the next scene is
she will fill it.