St Jerome Reading in an Italian Landscape
When you read on a summer’s day
with your head in the shade of a tree
and your finger placed in an earlier chapter
perhaps checking the notes
or going back to the pictures to perform that trick
like googling the youthful photos of actors
just to devastate yourself
with their beauty.
When you read leaning on one elbow
(a finite posture) reclining on a bank
while around you, cross-hatched lines
of shade make up a world of depth
of leaves and branches, even a dove
its head turned to the side, caught
in a state of classically avian inane alertness.
And there they are! The slippers of St Jerome
like those white towelling freebies from a hotel.
He has slid them off to hide his feet from the sun
beneath the hem of his cascading robe.
His face under a feminine hat.
Nothing can be an accident when it is Rembrandt.
A church and a ramshackle farmhouse, high on the hill
a cavernous shadow below,
a bridge with one figure, and next to it a head
the body obscured: all must have a story to tell.
And this tree that looks like a dragon
and this smudge-mark of a branch
and this rock, which could also be a collie dog
watching from the very corner of the page.
And then, what I haven’t mentioned, the lion.
Seen from behind, its muscled haunches
its tail within inches of the reading Saint
the dark landscape of its mane, site of its power
a glimpse of face, turned away, surprisingly cat-like
with its two or three sweet whiskers.