Monday, August 4, 2014


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
most herself,
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.

Mary Szybist
from Incarnadine


  1. these photos are tender, transcendent, revealing. She is beautiful with her thoughtful face and flowing hair, her paleness and fragility. The light landing on her, as well as the light bursting through the window does seem to have an unworldly glow to it.

    This is a stunningly moving post, Elizabeth. She is your muse.

  2. Amazing beauty. Such moments are so rare. Thank you.

  3. Beautiful Sophie in such beautiful light. Thank you for showing us.

  4. Those are really spectacular photos. They DO seem to glow with a spiritual light. I especially love that second one.

  5. They are all beautiful. But the one where she is playing with your hair breaks my heart in two and lets love spill out like that light.

  6. You've expressed the inexpressible so beautifully. We are all ignited by Sophie and illumination in all its forms. xo

  7. Sophie is definitely your muse, and "full of grace". Great post!!

  8. Astoundingly Beautiful.
    Iconic moments.

  9. So very beautiful.

  10. In light of our recent conversations, I would say that this is another powerful validation?

    Your visit to Italy, the Annunciation painting...there is much here for us to talk about when we meet one day.

    Would it surprise you to know that I too have a favorite Madonna painting?

    I believe that life makes more sense when we look back on it. Powerful moments like this beautiful one with Sophie, tell us that we are the recipient of a significant and meaningful message but it isn't until time has passed and we reflect on it later does it begin to make sense to us. Like your visit to Italy, which at the time was distressing but now is so powerfully affirming.



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