Still Life with Lazarus at the Museum

By | 1 March 2017

            Rembrandt’s Lazarus rises, reluctant ash from the sarcophagus while across the room a gray mouse in Abraham van Beyeren’s “Banquet Still Life” inspects a grape on a silver tray, ready to bite. Jesus works hard to accomplish the miracle, to pull the dead man from the grave; he looks surprised that his effort works, that the dead man lifts limply his gray shroud toward the astonished family that Rembrandt illuminates blue, gold, burgundy. Van Beyeren has other work to do, to remind us it will end, and he does so by showing pleasure, the luxuries of living: a lobster cooked bright red, oysters shucked and shining in their juices, voluptuous peaches and grapes shipped from the south, a melon with one wedge sliced revealing seeds inside the future, the pink flesh, the sweetness coming, pewter Venus hopeful rising from a copper coil of shell, the decanter suspended on a dolphin stem. White wine rests in opulent goblets tinted green, with metal stems like trunks patterned with blackberries. In the curved glass, the grids of windows reflect light outside the home, daylight 1667, fine talc inside the market ledger, the painter looking and looking.
            A child’s back draws us toward the woman who flings her arms back like disciples in the lamentation, though here it is the opposite: she flings her arms because Lazarus lives again. Is she Mary, Martha, one of the sisters who could not bear the brother’s death and so believed the rumors true, this man, this truth, such sweetness, the melon, the grape. Jesus reaches his hand into darkness as if to pull down heaven’s power to restore this man whose sisters love him so, who, seeing this unnatural thing where death is the only natural, glow gold insight and gratitude to see breath return to their brother.
            The still life brings us back to the ephemera, the quickness. I want to taste the oyster, that juicy burst of salt, slippery meat in my mouth, the lemon peeled, the rind in spiral hanging down; it is everything and gone. I will drink the wine or the wine will turn. Lazarus returns to this turning, this disappearing act from which he will disappear again, feel this loss, but first, feel the warmth his sister’s breath as she folds him to her, this body fresh from the grave that returns to taste wine, sliver of peach, to bring sweetness inside until it dissipates in that dark that is only inside the body and the heart, sweetness so quickly silence and memory, which is silence coming on.


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