The Book of Hours

By B. H. Fairchild b. 1942
Like the blue angels of the nativity, the museum patrons   
hover around the art historian, who has arrived frazzled   
and limp after waking late in her boyfriend’s apartment.   
And here, she notes, the Procession of St. Gregory,   
where atop Hadrian’s mausoleum the angel of death   
returns his bloody sword to its scabbard, and staring   
down at the marble floor, liquid in the slanted
silver light of mid-morning, she ponders briefly
the polished faces of her audience: seraphim gazing   
heavenward at the golden throne, or, as she raises   
her tired eyes to meet their eyes, the evolving souls   
of purgatory, bored as the inhabitants of some
fashionable European spa sunbathing on boulders.   
And here, notice the lovely treatment of St. John
on Patmos, robed in blue and gold, and she tells the story
of gall-nuts, goats’ skins dried and stretched into vellum—
the word vellum delicious in its saying, caressed   
in her mouth like a fat breakfast plum—lapis lazuli   
crushed into pools of ultramarine blue, and gold foil   
hammered thin enough to float upon the least breath,   
the scribes hastily scraping gold flakes into ceramic cups,   
curling their toes against the cold like her lover stepping   
out of bed in that odd, delicate way of his, wisps of gold   
drifting like miniature angels onto the scriptorium’s   
stone floor, and dogs’ teeth to polish the gold leaf   
as transcendent in its beauty, she says, as the medieval   
mind conceived the soul to be.

                                                The patrons are beginning
to wander now as she points to the crucifixion scene,
done to perfection by the Limbourg brothers, the skull and bones   
of Adam lying scattered beneath the Roman soldier’s horse,
and the old custodian wipes palm prints from the glass, the monks   
breathe upon their fingertips and pray against the hard winter,   
and the art historian recalls the narrow shafts of light tapping   
the breakfast table, the long curve of his back in half-shadow,   
the bed’s rumpled sheets lifted by an ocean breeze
as if they were the weightless gold leaf of the spirit.

B. H. Fairchild, “The Book of Hours” from The Art of the Lathe. Copyright © 1998 by B. H. Fairchild. Reprinted with the permission of Alice James Books.

Source: The Art of the Lathe (Alice James Books, 1998)

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Poet B. H. Fairchild b. 1942

Subjects Men & Women, Arts & Sciences, Relationships, Painting & Sculpture

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 B. H. Fairchild


B.H. Fairchild was born in 1942 in Houston, Texas, and grew up in small towns in Texas and Kansas. The son of a lathe operator, he attended the University of Kansas and the University of Tulsa. His poetry explores the empty landscapes of the region of his birth, and the lives of its working-class residents, including his own family and friends. Frequently described as a poet of the “sacred,” Fairchild’s work has gained renown . . .

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SUBJECT Men & Women, Arts & Sciences, Relationships, Painting & Sculpture

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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