1. A Room in the Prado

We were glad to escape the late morning sun
off the alabaster walls, and to enter the Prado
and to feel cool air in high-ceilinged rooms—
and as our eyes got used to the play of shadow,
the first colors we saw were of waterlogged wood,
in Sorolla’s large canvas, and the faded blue
on a water barrel. And the tenderness
of the two fishermen, kneeling in the hull,
arching over them like a chapel as they
cradle their sea-brother, lowering his head,
now a cold stone, to the floor where the sea
still pulses. Then rise to trim sails and secure
a poor catch to pay for the funeral. How small
we are, how large our tenderness to each other.

  1. Searching for El Greco, Finding

Goya’s Black Music

Then I searched for the people of El Greco—
slender, distressed—I’d dreamed for a lifetime
of entering that room with the towering canvases
of knights in velvet hose and with earth-weary faces;
white horses, eyes bulging to reflect jagged storms
in dark green skies high over Toledo. But before that,
I was shaken by bass notes, the kind you might hear
filling the night from a passing car window. Devil music,
from a room full of huge black paintings. In one,
a small dog drowns in quicksand, turning toward heaven
where no master extends a comforting hand; in another,
a young woman laughs, a blade in her hand,
a man’s head on the ground. The kind of music
that might swarm from a fresh-dug hole.

  1. What Goya Knew

That some men think they are graceful, proud of the wrist-flick
that lops off a head; that a woman who appears to be doing laundry
is snipping the thread of life; that some nations boast men so fierce
they can tear off a child’s head with their teeth;

that our pilgrimage is led by a fat priest whose horse
wobbles as it treads the long path; that the saints who watch over us
report back to the devil; that liberation cannot be forced on us
by a bayonet but must be defended by one, at all cost;

that all knowledge was first whispered by outlaws
then written down in forbidden books; that holy men
who preach gentleness would have us bow before beasts;

that those you thought were tougher than nails
will die this winter; that the night air is only cold
on the skin of those who are frightened by death.