I slipped deftly into Botticelli’s Primavera one afternoon,

Begging the pardon of the Three Graces in white

As I wandered toward the orange grove.


The little cupid, bow at the ready,

Failed to notice the bent flowers beneath my feet

And my slow reach into the branches


Where I carefully felt for a perfect orange,

Tore the globe of skin from its stringy flesh,

And held the dimpled smoothness of the flayed world in my palm –


The shred of color,

The fragrance of gravity,

The naked hue of hunger.


Then, like my father before me,

I dug my teeth into the tender spot and, somehow,

I have spent the sudden years trying to dig myself back up.

Outside Hopper’s Nighthawks

A new poem…

I was shuffling down the sidewalk that night,

My hands fixed in the pockets of my coat,

Thumb and finger turning at keys, aping

The turning in my mind,

When I found myself outside Hopper’s Nighthawks.


It was eerie at first to see my curious look

In the reflection of the old diner,

Though not so old in this impossible present

Where I stood peering through the dingy glass,

Squinting to note the familiar figures at the bar:

The hatted cigaretteer, the suspicious woman in red,

Their hands eternally touching or not touching,

The amiable boy tending the bar

And the fourth with his back to the world.


I drew my forehead up to the window

To determine how cool this outside dark,

Placing my hands like parentheses around my eyes

Only to see the still figures inside

Staring at nothing,

Dwelling on absent futures, listless

In their fixed points where Phillies are only 5¢

And the lights are always on.


Yet before I pulled away to turn the corner to my car,

A lazy glance happened upon a single glass,

Idle and unclaimed,

On the nearer end of the bar,

Removed from the four characters

Paralyzed in their cold moments.


So I drifted inside,

Lay my keys and scarf upon the counter,

And asked the boy if he’d exchange the empty tumbler

For a coffee cup like the others.

But he wouldn’t take it, wouldn’t even listen,

Didn’t even stand up straight from his persistent stooping,

And I gathered the glass was meant to stay,

Left by someone else,

Destined never to be filled,

Perhaps stuck in his own still point,

Caught in a portrait of frozen dancing

Or motionless on the curb.


I scooped up my keys and turned them over,

One by one around the ring,

But not before I waited for a while

To see what would happen next.


“See, Mother”

Madonna of the BookA few weeks ago, I had the privilege of touring the Museum of Biblical Art in Dallas and discovered a beautiful painting by Botticelli titled Madonna of the Book. In the center of this piece sits Mary with the Christ child on her lap as they both read from a medieval book of hours, a sacred devotional text common to Botticelli’s generation. Noticeably, Mary is pensive, contemplative, and even mournful in her pose as she studies the book.

Several striking images arise from this remarkable portrait, particularly surrounding the event of Christ’s death on the cross:

1. The Cross

If you look closely, a crown of thorns and three nails adorn the left hand of Christ, signifying his coming crucifixion. The placement of these symbols around the arm of the infant Christ creates a powerful harmony and continuity in the picture, for we are able to see in a single moment both Christ’s beginning and ending simultaneously. Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 1.33.41 PMHe was born to die. This is the will of God that “Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, [be] crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). Indeed, Christ came into this world to “give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). As Mark Lowry famously wrote in a song to Mary: “This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.”

2. The Gaze of Christ

Perhaps the most admirable feature of this work is the reassuring gaze of Christ toward His mother. As Mary appears somber, meditative, and hesitant to continue her reading (in a book which contains the gruesome account of the cross), the look of the Christ child is one of soothing comfort. “It’s okay, mother,” he seems to say, “we must keep reading the story.” Yes, we must. Mary, like many of us, nervously approaches the death of Jesus, the horrendous murder of her son. With pain she stays her hand to keep from witnessing the bloodshed. Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 1.51.07 PMYet, Christ guides her hand with His. “Keep reading. Keep reading.” Notice His left hand holding hers and His right hand guiding her back to the story. We must keep reading. Christ must die on the cross so that we must not. His steady and victorious look to His mother tells us everything. “I must do this for you,” he says to her and to us. “I love you. You must keep reading.” For as we keep reading, we discover that the story does not end at His death. In the words of the Battle Hymn, “Let the hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with His heel […] His truth is marching on.” He marches on. He marches on. Glory, glory, hallelujah.

3. Mary’s Garments

Interestingly, Mary is clothed in red (the shedding of blood for the covering of sin), and red is the garment closest to her heart. Draped around her and enveloping her entire figure is the blue of Christian baptism. Through the death of Christ, Mary is bought with blood and baptized into a new life, picturing the hope of Christ’s resurrection and the resurrection of the believers at His return. Though she is sad to think of His death, she is already clothed in His resurrection. Her joy is a future joy but a present reality.

4. The Dawn of Resurrection

Through the open window, we can just begin to glimpse the breaking dawn rising into view. “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Ps. 130:5). The death of Christ was a dark night, truly, but how glorious is His resurrection! “O Death, where is your sting?” (I Cor. 15:55).

Screen Shot 2015-07-04 at 10.20.15 PM

“See, Mother, I make all things new.”

All in all, may we be encouraged that, though we tremble at times in our reading of the great story of God, faithless in our fear of the coming darkness, the hand of Christ bids us keep reading, for behold, He is making all things new (Rev. 21:5).