Verses for the Madonna of humility with the temptation of eve

Verses for the Madonna of humility with the temptation of eve – Poem

Lynn Powell

Verses for The Madonna of Humility with the Temptation of Eve

Carlo da Camerino ca. 1400, tempera and gold on wood


This museum will be my refuge,

this painting, my chapel.

The lighting’s low, and the window’s

shaded in with January graphite.

But the eye, like the heart, knows how

to accommodate the dark.


Eve’s lying at eye level, propped up on an elbow.

And never has abyss been so good to pink,

the void a perfect foil for her foreground flesh.

She fits into the black like a woman

ready to be skewered in a vaudeville act.

You can tell the painter loves her, the way

You can tell the painter loves h

he’s touched her every place he can with paint.

And he’s noticed what she’s thinking:

holding the pear, as Hamlet did the skull,

while gazing up at someone who’s got everything to lose.

Eve’s about to make the choice Mary has to live with.

Yet her waves of golden hair suggest

she’s thinking of Rapunzel, too,

and ten thousand times ten thousand other happy

and savage endings.


What’s missing from this picture? Adam.

Though he’s implied in Eve’s attentive nipples,

in her open-minded stance.

The serpent’s wound his body up a barren stake;

he’s a scrawny vine blooming

to a small, bald human head–

more phallic than a penis,

more freakish than a porn star’s prick.

And he flatters himself, taking credit.

He doesn’t notice how her pink outmeasures his,

how, for half-a-dozen hundred years,

she hasn’t graced him with a second glance.


Mary’s throne thunders up

from Eve’s black cornerstone,

her middle-aged flesh a far cry from

the strawberries and cream of creation.

She’s done the best she can with what she has–

a gilt and azure dress large enough to flatter–

but her bare breast seems shaped

from marzipan and affixed

to her clavicle. And her skin is tainted green,

though it’s too early for premonitions of Chagall,

or the mossy afterlife.

True, that headdress would give you

one hell of a headache, each quill

of the gaudy, gargantuan crown

topped off by a cameo: the semiprecious face

of Matthew, Mark, Judas, John …

They’re up high, in the glare of a little spotlight.

But I see how much they weigh on Mary’s mind.


The baby turns his head to look

each time I walk into the room.

It’s hard to nurse a baby of that age–

the little tug-of-war between the eye and tongue.

And did he also watch

the painter’s nodding brush, and the women

slipping shyly in to kiss

his mother’s feet, and the men

who came to touch the tender hem of Eve?

He, too, will never take the breast for granted:

he’s unlatched but keeping his moist

claim on the roused, thick nipple,

the dark stem of the milkfruit.


A zealot in some other century

made a crude point–

he X’d the serpent’s head

and slit Eve’s knee and wrist

as if to cut key tendons of the will.

But when he turned to mar

the face and breasts and umber

crux of her legs,

he threw down his blade, and wept.


Mother of the bone button

and the tiny teeth of the zipper,

of burnt roasts and spilt perfumes,

of lipstick on the wineglass, Mother

of the warmth beneath the quilt and the gamy scent,

the rowdy baby and the stretchmark,

the stealthy tumor and the neurosurgeon’s knife–

Mother who made the bed we love to lie down in–

give us this day our same, sweet flesh,

our bodies that have borne the brunt of miracles.

Lynn Powell’s second book, The Zones of Paradise, is forthcoming in November 2003 from the University of Akron Press. Her first book, Old and New Testaments, won the Brittingham Prize and the Great Lake Colleges Association’s New Writers Award.

COPYRIGHT 2003 The Carolina Quarterly

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group