“Pentimento” by Jennifer Pruden Colligan

Jennifer Pruden Colligan


In a painting,
it is called pentimento
when years later the artist’s original intent
shows through.
The woman sits,
her face drawn a little inward.
She holds a dog.
But there is a ghostly outline
of a baby on her lap.

The house gapes, broken.
Bricks have fallen from the façade,
and glass litters the sidewalk that separates it
from the curb. The ribs show,
blackened beams with insulation
draped like drifts of cotton batting
in a Christmas display.

Look through this window          here,
and see the tree behind the glass,
glistening lights, and lights’ reflections.

Look again, and see a mother’s red hands
tossing babies one by one to passersby
below, hoping for a safe fall into a drift
of snow. Her blood marks each
in final blessing, a priest’s thumbprint
in chrism on their brows.

The house is dressed in flames.
Through them, one can see
each moment layered in light,
double-exposed, as if the photographer
repented, rewound the film,
and tried again.

from Rattle #30, Winter 2008


Jennifer Pruden Colligan: “There are many things that should not be forgotten for one reason or another. For me, poetry is an act of witness, a guard against forgetting for myself. I think people live their lives mostly asleep, and poetry comes when we are truly awake.”

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