Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Purgatory 17

This poem appears in the Fall 2008 issue of Phoebe, published by SUNY.

Purgatory 17
painting from the Divine Comedy suite by Salvadore Dali
“Ah, vain Arachne, thee I saw distraught,
already turned half spider, in the shreds
of that which thou to thine own ill had’st wrought.” Dante

Until I was 42, Dali wouldn’t paint me.
A gallery auctioned Arachne, and I saw my own six attenuated limbs
stretched to breaking. In the painting, she flees

as two small figures turn their backs. Mountains, too pale to be
other than far distant, sketch the horizon, dim
beneath a red-streaked sky. When I was 42, Dali painted me,

and I bought myself that day. I am she,
feeding daughters, bleeding through a canvas scrim.
Stretched to breaking, Arachne flees

and envies her shadow its shade. A refugee
without refuge, she touches the lines that swim
like lanes to somewhere. When I was 42, Dali painted me.

The blue Virgil looks back over his shoulder; he sees
the matted hair, large breasts. His face grim,
he knows she’s stretched to breaking as she flees

the bright expanse, searching for shelter, a cave, a tree –
but only sun and rocks and a pounding rhythm:
keep going, keep going. When I was 42, Dali painted me –
stretched to breaking, poised, aching, no place to flee.