David D. Nolta
TWO PANELS BY MEMLING
from the Brukenthal Collection
The dog loved the boy and the boy is dead.
The man—his father—could not allow
His son to be buried inside his head
As if he had never lived. That’s how
The artist, Memling, entered the picture
(Figuratively speaking). The man let fall
His coins and condition, one sly little stricture:
“Paint all of the story, or nothing at all.”
And so, by the wellhead, his wife—the man’s—
Assumed the pose in which Time would own her;
She knelt, she joined her empty hands,
As moving an image of mother and donor
As the Pietà in the churchyard, where
She last had her child. Across the divide
Her husband, more literal, reads his prayer,
Which Memling grants, for at his side
His son resumes the familiar station
Like the dog to the right of the woman’s knees.
The result is less a conversation
Than so many stopped soliloquies.
Is grief what this man and woman were made for?
Their reasons vanished with their names.
But not the point—that’s what they paid for:
The boy and the dog in their separate frames.
—from Rattle #35, Summer 2011