The Rebirth of Venus
He’s knelt to fish her face up from the sidewalk
all morning, and at last some shoppers gather
to see it drawn – wide-eyed, and dry as chalk –
whole from the sea of dreams. It’s she. None other
than the other one who’s copied in the book
he copies from, that woman men divined
ages before a painter let them look
into the eyes their eyes had had in mind.
Love’s called him too, today, though she has taught
him in her beauty to love best
the one who first had formed her from a thought.
One square of pavement, like a headstone (lest
anyone mistake where credit lies),
reads BOTTICELLI, but the long-closed dates
suggest, instead, a view of centuries
coming unbracketed, as if the gates
might swing wide to admit, here, in the sun,
one humble man into the pantheon
older and more exalted than her own.
Slow gods of Art, late into afternoon
let there be light: a few of us drop the wish
into his glinting coinbox like a well,
remembering the forecast. Yet he won’t rush
her finish, though it means she’ll have no shell
to harbour in; it’s clear enough the rain
will swamp her like a tide, and lion-hearted
he’ll set off, black umbrella sprung again,
envisioning faces where the streets have parted.
from Henry Purcell in Japan (Alfred A. Knopf, 1985), © Mary Jo Salter 1985, used by permission of the author