Weren’t you waiting for me,
      with those tight, folded eyebrows,
      the candor of your mouth?

We mourn quietly, you and I,
      eclipsed in the stairwell
      unnoticed by the other visitors who
      bustle toward the lily pads and ballet students
      We look askance at those neck-stretching crowds,
            unmoved by lives that endured plague, Inquisition, close combat of sword against armor

So much you have seen
      I recognize it all in that occluded cheek
      Those dark, unrelenting eyes
      I feel I should comfort you

And yet still at the pinnacle of your strength,
      When the brilliant painter of popes and princesses paused to construct this moment from a scribbler’s life,
      To display your powers of discernment
            Frustrating a viewer’s solicitous dolor

So long a witness of the world!—
      Of its incessant failings
      The ravages of autocracy
      Humanity’s stupidity

And you, so much finer than the painter’s preening kings and prelates,
      end up here with me
                  in a stairwell

So great a portion of Velasquez portraits
      lost to fire, suppression, or bureaucratic bumbling
Your appearance on this stairwell
      after centuries of blind destruction
      your continued gaze of wisdom and judgment
      offers hope.

After viewing the Portrait of Don Luis de Gángora in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. De Gángora y Argote was an important poet of sixteenth-century and seventeenth-century Spain. Many of his poems are addressed to people and objects in his environment, including works of art. He was known for championing the use of words that were rare in his time, including brilliant, candor, construct, eclipse, frustrate, and portion.

This poem was published in issue 84 of Offcourse, March 21, 2021.

[Valesquez portrait of De Gángora y Argote]

Andy Oram
October 5, 2020

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