Books Reviews

That Which I Am

By: Joan Carol Bird

Peru

The curator lingers
on monastery steps—
restoration renders four
fanciful tourists
fortunate voyeurs
in this sixteenth-century cloister.
Besides the hermit
all life here is for the moment banished.
Our monk ushers us
from one macabre chamber
to another
locking ghostly elements in place
behind us.
Cedar wood reliefs of martyred saints
encircle an ornate choir
while catacombs below the grate
insist we coexist with specters.
In one secluded sepulcher where
consolidated bones promiscuously tangle
the sign above the sealed door proclaims
Lo que eres fui
Lo que soy seras.
Near a fountain in the courtyard, eclipsed in dusk
Inca eyes flash. The old man is
Preternatural. Pale with the lack of light
and like his ancestor
an artist in his own right.
He captures us with studied care
in a snapshot
a candid still-life.
We freeze, uneasy in the frame
under his keen, judgmental glare.
At the entrance and exit
before we ascend to Cusco streets
we pause beneath The Last Judgment:
oil on canvas
a vision of heaven and hell
where an Inca artist has set himself
in full ceremonial headdress
between rapture and torment.
The face of every other painted soul
tortured or exulted
suggests an ecclesiastic
who lived and died within these walls.
Years later
trapped on emulsion
overexposed
I tuck the faded photo in my book and shudder
at our own Last Judgment:
Lo que eres fui
Lo que soy seras.

Categories: Books Reviews

4 replies »

  1. This poem tells a beautiful story beautifully. It begins on a note of curiosity. Then its faultless succession of images conjures serene awareness of mortality. Brava!

  2. I liked this one a lot and could almost smell the Murphy’s Oil Soap and frankincense (the Catholic church could probably patent that smell). There was a sense of wanting to understand these people that came before you, but trying to figure out your place on this rock as well. I almost saw this as the inner monologue of a female Indiana Jones.

  3. I love the story being told here – the sense of mystery and how the history of a place can become a mirror that reflects back a new way to understand ourselves. Wonderful!

  4. Amazing poem!! You can sense the deep appreciation reflected in her beautiful reading of the moment, the space, the culture, the people, and the history. Well done!

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