National Gallery, London

You ask me why I’ve sat down to read
in front of an El Greco painting.
You find it strange that I keep so still,
breathing shallowly,
to take in only the air that I need,
and no more,
that my hand moves ever so slowly
when it turns a page.
Listen, El Greco’s figures are candle flames,
they are what’s left when you strip away the flesh,
and that’s why they all look the same.
El Greco painted spirits,
powerful, vibrating, yet so frail.
I want to keep them with me,
for as long as they wish to stay.
If I breathe too loudly,
I’ll blow the candles out.
If I glance at them too directly,
they’ll go away.
You shake your head
and look straight at the canvas.
You see a kneeling Christ,
arms outstretched,
you see an elongated back –
anatomically impossible –
the wings attached to it,
you say,
are somewhere between bird and butterfly.
This is not what it’s about,
I shake my head.
I am not religious, I say –
just longing for grace.

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