JEANNE MURRAY WALKER
Portrait of the Virgin Who Said No to Gabriel
This is the girl Rubens never painted.
She looked up from baking that morning, hearing
his feathers settle and his voice scatter like gold
coins on the floor. When she saw his forehead, sweaty
from the long trip, she guessed. Me? she scoffed,
But after he walked away, she couldn't forget
the strange way his feet rang like horseshoes on the
What she had been wanting before he interrupted
was not the Bach Magnificat, I can tell you, not stained
glass. Not to lose her good name. Nothing risky.
Short as she was, how could she keep in her heart
those centuries of tall praise? But I praise her,
anyway, for wanting a decent wedding
with napkins folded like hats and a good Italian wine.
I praise her name, Lenora. I praise the way
she would write it carefully, making the L
like a little porch, where she could imagine standing
to throw a red ball to some children she loved.
I praise the way, year by year, she changed that visitor
in her mind from a beggar holding a tin cup
into the angel she later knew him for. Think of her,
collecting belief slowly, the way a bird builds her nest
in an olive tree. Think how one year, after the leaves fell,
she was an old woman looking at the truth, dark
against the salmon sky, knowing it was true.
For not despising her own caution then, I praise her.
For never feeling envy. And for the way, once,
she walked through her fear to hand a cup of water
to a carpenter who was fainting by her door.
In every room of this gallery I think I see her picture.
—for Henry William Griffin