After the miniature by Hans Holbein the Younger
Through the window, winter,
black oxen slumped in the pastures. Someone's whistle,
then the chatter of wagon wheels as, carriage
by carriage, some king or black-eyed queen
bobs through the countryside, outrunning the plague.
In the clouds the ice storms gather. Cold sun
tints the ground to the roan of peaches.
And in a silk tunic, Hans Holbein studies
immaculacy: the dust-free room, the lint-free silk,
his wrists and lye-washed hands. Then he strokes
to the back of a playing card-some king
or flat-eyed queen-a tinted ground.
And waits, powders an eggshell, a peach pit, a stone
from the gall of a black ox. Waits. Sits
at the window, where high on the hillsides
dusk's pandemic wash
darkens the carriages, the clouds that offer
their white petals to the darkening province
of space. Until only a clatter
remains--wagon wheels, ice--as he bends
to the card, outlines in miniature
a swatch of cloak. Then smaller still,
a placid, wide-cheeked, tentative face.
Then smaller still, a lily.
published with author's permission