She predates blue robed Mary.
Her brush graces vellum with the brightest skies
above the apostles, paints marine haloed saints,
or blue-tipped, long winged symbols hovering
over the evangelists. Once again,
we had to unearth her expertise to believe it.
From the burnt rubble of a monastery in Dalheim,
a mandible’s incisors inlaid with lazuli illuminate
a woman as exalted artist. Not a maid
grinding stone pigments for her master, a monk,
then wiping mouth and licking grit. These faded deposits
in fossilized tartar were mined beyond the sea.
It’s the early 11th century. She ingests cochineal wings
and dried fish eyes, too, from crimson and glue.
She can paint stories that bloom in the text for all to see.
Or maybe she dates the blue of Mary, her brush turning
the once dark mourning robes ultramarine—
lazurite paste kneaded and blended with linseed
and lye, its aura trapped in small pots passed
in pockets and palms across Afghanistan,
tossed in vessel drawers on fraught seas
for trade in Venice, and coating the brush she kisses
to its finest point, particles settling in gum valleys.
She’s quite a production, this middle-aged woman
in the high Middle Ages not given in marriage to a man;
she’s evidence she mattered — even if she was sent
from the inlet of last daughters, her family
choosing for her a life of education and obedience.
More precious than gold that, in leaf, she floats
on puffs of humid breath down to the kingdom
of the text, a calculus of true blue reveals
her prominence above men’s signatures of the age.
Was it humility that kept a nun’s value occulted?
It could be the fire that swallowed her name
in a later raid. Maybe her artistry made her
recognizable while she lived, working in the light.
She sits back, satisfied, stretches her arms, sore
muscles, and sips ale, swishing that divine lapis lazuli.
Amy Holman is the author of the collection, Wrens Fly Through This Opened Window (Somondoco Press, 2010), and four chapbooks, including the prizewinning Wait for Me, I’m Gone (Dream Horse Press, 2005). She has an April 2021 NYC Poets Afloat micro-residency on a barge in the New York Harbor. Poems have been in Blueline, The Chiron Review, The 5-2: Crime Poetry Weekly, Gargoyle, and Live Nude Poems. She is a literary consultant in Brooklyn, a poetry editor at The Westchester Review, and an instructor at The Hudson Valley Writers Center.