La Tempesta

By | 1 March 2017

A lightning flash over the lagoon
displaces me—we’re running again
headlong down
the flight of blinding stone
steps, towards noon,
grabbing a cup of iced red melon
before we adjourn

to the cool interior
of the Scuola della Carità,
straight to the one picture
you insist that I see: La Tempesta.
All I can do is mumble, stutter,
struck first by water
the same thick blue-green texture

of the canal,
and imagine the same smell
drifting from a stagnant pool
five centuries old. Only then do I feel
the centrifugal pull
of the strange, anonymous couple
seemingly in exile

or on the run
—from what?—war-torn
European ruin?—
or Renaissance Eden?
They have no option
but to indulge their own
remaining swagger or quotidian

demands—she to pause,
remove her dress
and lay it on the grass
as if this questionable bliss
were still Paradise.
She sits and outstares
whoever so much as dares

to raise an eyebrow at her wild
demeanour, her excuse the need
to suckle her child
but she’s nude
her legs lazily spread—
with only her shoulders shawled
as if against the cold

or a guard’s approbation,
while her man, urbane,
but with gypsy skin,
cocky in his two-tone
stockings, seems almost to grin
as the storm crackles on,
knowing they must remain

exactly as the artist painted the scene,
their passion
at once revealed and forbidden;
both public domain
and private garden
lit like Golgotha, but serene;
an omen.


You came here before, one bone-
chilling winter, with reason
to be alone;
fell for the out-of-season
muted tone
of rich desolation;
fell, like a noble Venetian,

for this painting, its blend
of sky, water and land
in colours illumined
by the storm. Now you stand
in your own footsteps and find,
perhaps, reaching for my hand,
how we might spend

a life of love and subterfuge,
making a silent pledge
to hold our own selves hostage,
venturing to the very edge
of who we are. We enter the image
and wait for the deluge…
The deserted bridge

takes no-one anywhere.
The lightning is little more
than a chalky tear
in the cloud, a razored blur—
but it dragged us here
to witness how the viewer
has most to fear

and we wait, stoic
as that enigmatic stork
on the roof, for the storm to break—
electric baroque
still decades away—stark
staring mad for thinking the crack
in the foreground is a snake,

or giddy still from the vaporetto,
believing there’s a shadow…
a faint, human glow
that lives within the pentimento,
managing to show
how even depicted happenings can flow…
And so

it is that I learn
of the other woman,
the one the artist chose to drown
beneath new layers of green
and brown—
never to explain
why, or elucidate her pain.

We re-emerge from the small room,
stumbling from studied gloom
into day. The storm
has passed but lingers as a dream
in spacetime,
sharpening our sun-blazed form
to a bold continuum.


Our planes
leave in different directions
but hit the same turbulence
and we plummet—sense
a simultaneous
veering terror and stolid confidence
as we glance

from separate cabin windows
at the cloud, a canvas
stretched beneath us
into the future, the noise
of the engine relentless
as a rumbling loss
while we advance.

Based upon the painting ‘La Tempesta’ by Giorgione,
c. 1509, oil on canvas, 82 x 73 cm

This entry was posted in 79: EKPHRASTIC and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Related work:

Comments are closed.