What loves, takes away

By Eleanor Wilner b. 1937 Eleanor Wilner
If the nose of the pig in the market of Firenze
has lost its matte patina, and shines, brassy,   
even in the half light; if the mosaic saint
on the tiles of the Basilica floor is half gone,   
worn by the gravity of solid soles, the passing
of piety; if the arms of Venus have reentered
the rubble, taken by time, her perennial lover,
mutilating even the memory of beauty;   
                                                                                                          and if
the mother, hiding with her child from
the death squads of brutality,
if she, trying to keep the child
quiet, to keep them from being found out,   
holds her hand over his mouth, holds him   
against her, tighter and tighter, until he stops
breathing;   
                              if the restorer—trying to bring back
to perfection the masterpiece scarred by its
transit through time, wipes away
by mistake, the mysterious smile. . .
                                                                                                          if what   
loves, and love is, takes away what it aims
to preserve,   
                                 then here is the place to fall   
silent, meaning well but in danger
of marring what we would praise, unable
to do more than wear down the marble   
steps to the altar, smother the fire   
we would keep from the wind’s extinction,
                                                                                                          or if, afraid   
of our fear, we lift the lid from the embers, and send   
abroad, into the parched night, a flight of sparks,
incendiary, dying to catch somewhere,   
hungry for fuel, the past, its dry provision
tinder for brilliance and heat, prelude
to cold, and to ash. . .

Source: Poetry (September 2008).

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This poem originally appeared in the September 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

September 2008
 Eleanor  Wilner

Biography

Eleanor Wilner was born in 1937 in Ohio. She earned a BA from Goucher College and a PhD from Johns Hopkins University, where she completed her dissertation on the imagination, a work later published as Gathering the Winds: Visionary Imagination and Radical Transformation of Self and Society (1975).  Active in civil rights and peace movements, Wilner is known for writing poetry that engages politics, culture, history, and myth. . . .

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