Pompeii, November 2013
The middle alcove (above) crowns a god’s absence in an arch of blushed brick. If this photograph were taken from above, the pedestals would be graves. Idols either stepped off of their pedestals or sank into the earth, it seems. I’ve been praying to empty spaces without knowing it. It’s poetic that my far-sighted eyes are blurring just as my life blurs; uncertainties, slurred drunken edges, stumbling over things I can’t see and reaching for ones that are no longer there. Eyes of antique glass; just enough blindness to fool myself.
Giotto’s fresco ‘The Death of St. Francis’ is riddled with empty patches and scrolls of exposed wall, as if a curator noticed St. Francis was ailing and unrolled swathes of white liniment. Contrails of naked wall and plaster hover near the heads of monks like empty speech bubbles. No one knows what to say. One monk gazes up at a floating banner of wall as if to read something there but the speech bubble is blank; he’s hearing things.
One of the exposed rectangles of Giotto’s wall becomes a blindfold for a monk in the back who can’t see what the others are lamenting. Over the past five hundred years his eyes have fallen to the ground of the chapel. His gaze rises from the detritus of the chapel floor. The others stare at St. Francis’ vacant body, while the blind man gazes upward at the saint’s soul. The painting continues to evolve, collaborating with the weather. Just like me, the painting’s sight is going, person by person. They can only mourn so long before their senses fall away from them, mercy following mercy, until they’re blissfully unaware of the narrative that binds them to this stretch of leprous wall. The narrative that ties me to the walls of my house, the walls of my family.
The monk’s blindfold reminds me of days lost to migraines; the tourniquet my husband would tie over my eyes and temples, the sudden cinch, the bite of the knot. Our room would contract to a single thought the size of my palm. Other senses would rouse: the sound of horses clopping past our house, a taste of ginger, earthy musk of 400-year old stone walls, my breath rising and falling. The cat’s purr at my feet would create a circumference like the halo of a lamp, a warm circle that my entire consciousness could fit inside of; a white noise I could amplify with a stroke.