Saturday, May 2, 2009

Sunday Sabbath Poetry: Gjertrud Schnackenberg

A friend recently introduced me to the poetry of Gjertrud Schnackenberg, a present-day award-winning American poet, and in contrast to much of my usual preferences, her long-form narrative style is intoxicating. Her poem below is the first of a three-part meditation on 15th-century Venetian Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna's painting The Lamentation Over the Dead Christ, posted below it.

My own is simple enough, but not unrelated. (I continue to introduce my own poems with one-word sentences that reveal nothing. Should I just leave well enough alone? Hm.)

Anyway, I hope you find her depth of reflection and language equally meaningful.

- - - - - - -

Christ Dead

Andrea Mantegna

by Gjertrud Schnackenberg

Found among the painter's
Possessions at his death,
Something, of which one glimpse
Will wound your soul forever

Something you seem to glimpse
Through intermediate planes of haze,
As if beyond overturned blocks
Of carved, square stone,
Something lying at rest,
Lying alone, even beyond
The nameless "uncarved block"—

As if you put your eye
To a chasm in the wall and beheld,
Through a caesura in the kingdom,
Through a space you cannot squeeze through,

The radiance of true exile
Where he lay in Sion a stumbling block
And a stone of offense, but here
Pictured in a perspective so narrow
You may only rest your forehead
On the ancient mortarwork
That holds you back from him.

So that, before this open tomb,
Pressing your face against the stone,
Seeing these lips that have touched
The bitter bread, halted
Before these wounded feet you cannot help
But reach for, as if you could
Take them in your hands,
You cannot refuse
To bow your head.

- - - - - - -

Last Gasp of the Old Man

O, that the tendrils of
your peace would wrap around
my neck and squeeze the life
out of the old man, like
a beast out of time, like
a dragon from the sea,
like Lewis's angel
fierce in stare and spear's thrust,
like a great horror from
the minds of Lovecraft and
King come to put me to
death: asphyxiation
no different in kind than
your own crucifixion.

- - - - - - -

Previous Sunday Sabbath Poetry

8.31.08 - Wendell Berry
9.7.08 - Will Oldham
9.14.08 - Sam Beam
9.21.08 - Woody Guthrie
9.28.08 - Derek Webb
10.5.08 - David Berman
10.12.08 - Michael Nau
10.19.08 - Sufjan Stevens
10.26.08 - Wendell Berry
11.2.08 - Maynard James Keenan
11.16.08 - Wendell Berry
11.23.08 - Psalm 44
12.10.08 - Mid-Week: Derek Webb, Rowan Williams, Cormac McCarthy, Psalm 137, and Jesus
12.21.08 - Placide Cappeau
1.04.09 - Robin Pecknold
1.11.09 - Thom Yorke
1.25.09 - Reese Roper
2.1.09 - Chris Martin
2.15.09 - Wendell Berry
3.01.09 - C.S. Lewis
3.8.09 - George Herbert
3.15.09 - Gerard Manley Hopkins
3.22.09 - Rowan Williams
3.29.09 - Walter Brueggemann
4.5.09 - Dan Haseltine
4.12.09 - Easter: Wendell Berry, Annie Dillard, George Herbert, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Colin Meloy, Michael Nau, Rembrandt
4.19.09 - Jeff Tweedy
4.26.09 - Kim Fabricius


  1. I've enjoyed these but I really need to take the time to read them closely. I'm too impatient for poetry, I think.

    If you get the time, something you might want to check out is "The Book of the Dead Man" by Marvin Bell.


  2. Sorry for the double post, but I just realized that I already suggested this in the summer reading list thread! Oh well, he's worth reading!