“La Gioconda” by Martha Silano

Martha Silano


I’m deaf, I’m in mourning; I’ve just had a 2nd child.
I’m toothless, palsied, pregnant, paralyzed.

Clearly, I’m a reflection of the painter’s neuroses;
clearly, I have a toothache. Turn the canvas

sideways, at a 45-degree angle. Scan the dark swirls:
and you’ll see them, the buffalo and the lion. Twenty

animals in all, including a snake representing
envy, a leopard because its skin kills the wanting

of what we don’t have. I’m the Jolly Lady, wife
of Francesco del Giocondo; I’m Lisa (a real-life person);

I’m idealized, the artist’s mother, the Madonna (a mule
nestles between my breasts—have you spotted

the ape?) Superimposed on a Chinese landscape,
I’m the eternal female, queen of sepulchral secrets.

My half-smile is the smile of enlightenment,
and those glowing hands? So Buddha. In 1962,

posing with Jackie and JFK, I was valued at $720 million,
six times the price of a Pollock or de Kooning.

Some have said that in my placid eyes tiny letters
and numbers reveal I’m Gian Giamono Caprotti,

my painter’s apprentice, but don’t buy it.
Forget the theories relating to my lack

of eyebrows and lashes, lost not from plucking
but the ravages of restoration. Housed at Versailles,

entwined myself in the Sun King’s cucumber patch,
silently basked in Le Tuileries while Napoleon, quaffing

his coveted Chambertin, scuffed around in beat-up red slippers.
When WW2 broke out, they wrapped me in waterproof paper,

whisked me to a land of poppies and castles. Behind
two layers of bulletproof glass, I live on at the Louvre,

where each year seven million spend an average
of fifteen seconds discerning my ambiguous mood. I’m

unfinished; I’ve been stuffed beneath a trench coat, smuggled
back to Florence. Doused with acid, stoned, pummeled

with a teacup. Touched-up, varnished, de-varnished, infested
with insects; fumigated. I’m a miasma of optical illusions;

my paint is cracking. My visage excites the random noise
in your visual system; emotion recognition software reveals

I’m 83% happy, 9% disgusted, 6% fearful, two pinches angry,
a smidgen neutral. You love me like you love your sphinx,

your flying saucers, your Area 51; I’m your koan,
your inscrutable floozy, your syphilitic conundrum,

your angelic aspara, your enduring durga. You’re here
because I render you agog, aha-less, uncomfortably mum.

from Rattle #38, Winter 2012


Martha Silano: “I cannot needlepoint, crochet, or knit but I’m rather handy with a hoe and spatula. Writing poetry permits me plenty of time to pay attention to willows, gentians, nighthawks, outdated grammar books, constellations, clouds, and thrift store curiosities. This focus affords a closer connection to the beautiful and mysterious, while reinforcing the relative insignificance of to-do lists, dirty dishes, and bad hair days.” (web)

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