Duccio’s Dawn

Ekphrastic Poetry


Day break and a mint light unfurls in the bottega’s
dark corners. Between church bell and dog bark
he bends to strengthen seasoned panels of poplar

with strips of linen, size them with rabbit glue
and chalky gesso sanded smooth as a woman’s skin.
A reed marks out the ghost of angels,

smudged charcoal is erased with a feather.
With squirrel brush and ink-wash he fills in drapery.
Shadows are applied with something blunter.

And then the gold. Tooled and punched with flowers
and stars. Cusped Gothic arches polished to burn bright
in deep church dark. At last the tempera:

terra verde, orpiment, cinnabar bound
with egg yolk and water that takes years to dry.
Yellow from country fowl for swarthy peasants.

Pale ones from town hens for the blessed saints.
And in the dusty silence he murmurs credos,
paternosters, an Ave Maria –

asks the Virgin to infuse his tongue
with that metallic taste of miracles
so he can paint the face of God.

Maestà, 1308–1311, tempera and gold on wood, 213 cm × 396 cm

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