Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Madonna del Libro

I get tons of questioning looks when I mention to people that I'm extremely interested in Catholicism. The confusion comes from one of three things: (1) Catholics can't find interesting in their own religion, so they can't see why I can; (2) Protestants don't have interest in Catholicism, so don't see why I do; and (3) I'm a Jew, so I should (apparently) keep to my own sphere. It doesn't help that I shun the two Jewish congregations in my college community, choosing instead to attend Sunday morning mass at St. Agnes when the spirit takes me.

Deep down, I think my family is concerned about all of this. My Dad, the life-long Jew, can't understand when I do my best to explain the concept of the Trinity; my Mom, formerly a Protestant, holds a teeny-weeny grudge against Catholics for telling her that she was going to Hell when she was younger. My brother... well, my brother is oblivious when it comes to anything that doesn't involve a soccer ball.

I've done my best to assure them that I have interest in converting (indeed, I really don't), but I find the similarities between Judaism and Catholicism fun to analyze. Eternal lights, bread and wine, ark-like structures-- we share quite a bit. The stuff we don't have in common is just as cool. I grew up in a religion that frowns on depicting the human form in art, so I just love to stare at the marble Madonnas so sheer that I can see a candle's glow behind them. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church is so foreign to me that it takes me forever to understand how a deacon relates to a cardinal relates to a pope and so on.

Going to Rome during my semester abroad, obviously, was like dying and going to Heaven. Nuns, monks, and priest everywhere! Even priest pin-up posters-- imagine that! Almost as cool as the rabbi trading cards I found in Sfat.

Anyway, in poetry class, we were told to pick a piece of art and write a poem about it. Of course, I chose "Madonna del Libro" (above), a beautiful painting by Botticelli.

So, after all of the exposition, here is the poem, in a supremely rough draft.

The woman and the babe debate religion,
their whispered thoughts hushed in the fading sunlight.

The child, his mind clear
from nine months of solitary contemplation,

cranes his neck, curious to catch the glint
of understanding in his mother’s eyes.

She inclines her head in an effort to grasp his words,
but really she is inspecting her child’s unstained brow,

searching for the future. She considers
wrestling the golden thorns from his forearm

but to do so would be like pulling the dead from Fate’s iron fingertips
or turning water into wine.

So she wraps her cloak like the folds of Heaven
around her son, silently urging him

to keep his stubby legs in firm contact with the dirt
and his sticky fingers entwined in her hair.

But his eyes already point towards the
stars and his future amongst them.

The professor says that I should send it to one of the Christian poetry journals. That makes me pee myself a little.

As if my last name wouldn't give it all away.



  1. Beautiful poem, Kate. I can't find your last name anywhere, so I can't tell you if I think it would give you away right off the bat. I share your curiosity of things religious, I was raised Presbyterian. My best friend as a teenager was Jewish and she was teaching me Hebrew and how to do the bunny hop. My other best friend was Catholic, but the nuns wouldn't answer questions.

    I may be tagging you with a meme in a day or two if that's all right with you? I haven't been tagged yet myself, only asked.

  2. moonshadow: Thanks. :) I try not to put my name up on the internet, though I know it's there. But if you saw it, you could tell that I'm a Jew.

    Sometimes I wonder about people that don't want to venture out and explore other religions. I think that's where most of our intolerance comes from.

    And sure, meme away!


  3. I'm still waiting on the meme tag, I was getting a jump on it, fretting whether I could come up with what I needed to write and other people to tag.

    I totally understand not putting your name on the internet, as you see I only have "Moonshadow" for my name on all my blog info. Though my full name IS posted on one of my blogs.

    My curiousity about your last name comes from two sources, one is called "the Mennonite name game". Mennonites from German/Russian descent have recognizable names, names that when you hear them you ask their ethnic heritage because you're "sure" they're Mennonite. The other is I am the family genealogist and as a result am curious about everybody's geneaology. There were Jewish colonies in the same area that my ancestors came from and some of these Jews carried the typical Mennonite names too. Anyway, that's my interest in family names.

  4. I know how you feel... and I bet you would have had a great time at Fordham, which is Jesuit, and yet very welcoming to non-Catholics, and has a very intellectually challenging program. My college theology seminar was one of the best things that have happened to me academically.

  5. So here's something crazy: I stumbled upon your blog and I happen to be a Catholic who is just really interested in Judaism. And my brother is very concerned I'm leaving the Church, which isn't really an issue. I just dig the Jews, that's all.
    But yeah, if you ever want to chat it up, let me know! I'd be down with understanding things about Judaism instead of just playing with a dreidel and stuff.

  6. Christy Lou Who: Are we soulmates? :) I think so!