Ars Poetica

The shell of the papershell pecan can easily be broken

in one hand but is so thin it cannot be

written on, like the carapace

of the cicada, enclosing those hollow

abdomens that buckle their ribs

all night. We find them each morning:

notes hung by the nape

on hedges, the shape of their sound

lifted to a branch like the ex-voto

boti, their own life-size

wax effigies, which Florentines

in the Renaissance suspended—

as an offering or in thanks—from the vault

of Santissima Annunziata.

         Leonardo sought

to reconcile the apparent contradiction

between a static, lifeless

artifact and the enlivenment

it provokes, to understand how the words of

the dead go on speaking. No one ever knew

a pecan tree to die of old age, but because

even ink drying on paper takes part

in the process of aging, he thought the life

of a work of art must be

measured by its vivacitá, how well

it can vivify a beholder—like Charles Ray’s statue

of Boy with Frog, standing on the Grand Canal

in Venice, which must be protected

from assault, both day and night,

by a living person.

I once dreamed a word entirely

Baroque: a serpentine line of letters leaning

with the flourish of each touching the shoulder

of another so that one breath at the word’s

beginning made them all collapse. E spesso moiano

parlando, Leonardo wrote: we die, very often,

while we speak, the way Common Swifts,

named from the Greek without feet, never settle

voluntarily on the ground but spend

their life, in faithful pairs from year

to year, in flight. They drink, eat, rest

and often mate on the wing: late

in the season they gather, circling in the air

above their nests, calling out

to each other as they ascend

to sleep.

 

 

Angie Estes is the author of four books, most recently Tryst, which was selected as one of two finalists for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize.

Issue #21 March 2013
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