Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus
They were tired and hungry when they found themselves just outside the village now known as
Abu Ghosh, for centuries a place for wayfarers.
A roasted fowl was on offer, the round-faced innkeeper told them, & of course a basket of fruit,
wine, bread, the usual, though none of the hummus that’s lately so renowned.
They would take what they could get, they said. Cleopas in his tattered jacket, his friend James,
the one with the scallop shell. They were used to worse. This meal would be good enough.
The eating place was small & shadowy, but the table had been covered with a fine white linen &
under it a deeply figured cloth. Yes, this would be good enough–unusually comfortable, even.
Perhaps, they suggested to the strange young man, you’d like to join us? He had walked with
them from just outside the city, he must be weary too, though his face was rosy, his hands fair,
and he had talked nonstop, so it seemed, for several hours.
He appeared anxious to travel further, but after a little persuasion he agreed & sat down with
The innkeeper, sleeves rolled up, brought out the food & the travelers leaned forward eagerly,
but the stranger was silent for a minute, as if remembering something.
Then, when the bread was put before him, he raised his hand in the ancient gesture of blessing–
Baruch atah Adonai–that they knew so well, and His enormous Death exploded in the little
There was a different silence. And then a flare of greater silence, as if the walls had trembled in
an aftershock before standing straight again.
So for centuries Cleopas has struggled to rise from his chair & escape the canvas. James’s hand
has been flung toward us, begging for rescue. The dead man, long black ringlets, wise young
face, has merely lifted his lordly arm.
And the fruit basket still balances at the edge of the table, just about to topple its burden of
grapes & figs & apples into the hands of anyone swift enough to catch such sour sweetness.
Sandra M. Gilbert has published eight collections of poetry, most recently Aftermath(2011) and among prose books Wrongful Death, Death’s Door, Rereading Women, The Culinary Imagination: From Myth to Modernity (2014) and Eating Words: A Norton Anthology of Food Writing (2015), coedited by Roger Porter . She is currently at work on a new collection of poems, “Saturn’s Meal.” With Susan Gubar, she is coauthor ofThe Madwoman in the Attic and other works: the two received the 2012 Award for Lifetime Achievement from the National Book Critics Circle.