“Picture of a Man with a Broken Heart” by Robert Viscusi

Robert Viscusi


In English we say Padua; in Italian, Padova.
In Italian, Basilica di Sant’Antonio; in English, Church of Saint Anthony.
Around the tomb of Saint Anthony in Padua stands an altar.
Around that altar people have left pictures of their parts.
“Saint Anthony healed my arm, and here is a silver arm.”
Hammered silver arms hang at all angles, thousands of them.
The cloister museum has hundreds of feet, eyeballs, knees.
Sant’Antonio di Padova, finder of lost things, also heals the sick.
Padova is the seat of an ancient school of medicine.
Many paintings record accidents miraculously survived.
Ex voto. Because of a vow. Each piece records a vow.
“In gratitude for healing my heart, I send this picture.”
Some paintings are of children restored to happiness.
There is a plaster cast of two hands.
People send their wedding rings.
Nothing is too small for Saint Anthony.
He will help you find your glasses, if they are what you need.
The picture is at the end of a corridor.
The man is painted looking straight ahead at the viewer.
Above him the heart, whole and aglow.
These rooms have skylights.
A row of silver hearts frames the painting.
In late afternoon silver is golden.
With his left hand, the man is pointing to the old heart.
It lies broken into huge humps of stone.
Artists call this gesture The Confession.
With his right hand the man points to the new heart.
Its red gold aureole distills the afternoon light.
Artists call this gesture The Vow.
Many of the paintings have Saint Anthony in them.
Others seem to be looking at him as if he were standing inside you.
“Thank you for healing me,” they say. “Thank you for finding my glasses.”

from Rattle #20, Winter 2003
Tribute to Italian Poets


Robert Viscusi: “Visiting Italy for the first time in 1977, I found myself not merely an American with a passport but also an Italian with amnesia. Thoughts and feelings that had long accompanied my American life now seemed subtle messages from another place, now nameless, written in another tongue, now silent. This rich forgetfulness, these unsettling interruptions, became my subject.”

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