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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, November 22, 2016.
About this Poem 

“Pope Julius II commissioned an apparently somewhat reluctant Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in 1508; the artist’s rivals desired he might fail and flee Rome, but on a scaffold he’d constructed, he labored upright for four years, head back-tilted, to create his elaborate and sublime scheme. Who does not recognize the enduring iconic gesture—God’s extended forefinger, the uplifted wrist of reclining Adam, both hands outreaching almost to meet? Later, I was captured by the casual gesture (beside a Parisian health club swimming pool) that gives birth to Kundera’s character Agnes, in Immortality. Technology affords us opportunities to see the mind’s loops, replaying not only images we love, but those filled with grief, with horror. Depictions, portrayals, executions, iterations, renditions—from the ancient French, rendre: ‘give back, render.’ An ‘extraordinary rendition’ is the practice of ‘covertly sending a suspect to be interrogated in a country with less rigorous regulations for the humane treatment of prisoners.’ This poem wants to comprehend how one might give and receive with grace.”
—Katrina Roberts

Rendition

If “truth is a fire,” as Klimt scrawled on a sketch for his
painting Nuda Veritas, “and to speak truth means to shine and
to burn,” then I’m a spent firework, blown-open, hollow, grime-
smeared and left for a wandering child—to pick from
hardened sand, or to wash out to sea. I’m so tired, and tired
of sitting on my hands. This morning I couldn’t stop watching
a two-minute clip of a slow loris eating rice balls, lost in his
savoring of some inaudible tune. Or, maybe I should say I noted         how
his Gothic strangeling eyes rose to meet, then veer away, from
those unseen in the frame of one whose fingers offered the                  sticky white
grains. It was how his elegant hand curled from within
the box where he hid, and how his ease seemed to grow as he            chose
to lift each gleaming ball to his ready mouth. Only yes-
terday I learned of laws amended to let witnesses to executions         by
injection see, albeit over closed-circuit TV, the sterile affront
of IV-lines entering arms of inmates, though ID of injectors              “won’t
be revealed.” In most states, there’s a 3-drug combo; the                       second’s
a paralytic agent… Here, you get a one-step option, or the                   choice
to hang. Hanging? Does anyone choose to hang? The slow loris
again is reaching his dark plush arm toward me on the screen,             and now
his tongue darts out in satisfaction, though perhaps I’m                       imposing
human emotion, and instinct makes him simply take care
of hygienic concerns. My people are mostly furred or plumed.
On death row, is hope a “thing with feathers”? Anesthetized,
I could watch the slow loris all day taking gifts from a stranger’s
hand. The last time I saw my father, before he chose to leave
the country, he held the newspaper and a faceted glass jar
of raspberry jam toward me; and his hands quavered the way                hands
of the elderly do. Did he see this himself?  Did he worry
about journeying south, despite frailty of shoulder, hip, the                  haze
of continual pain? I wanted to say, don’t go. I’m still replaying
the loop of his shaking. And then, as in slow motion, this once-
massive man took the glazed concrete steps one-by-one,                      checking
his balance on each, taking leave of me, moving gingerly
away—into the stunned, crystal day, all alone.

Copyright © 2016 by Katrina Roberts. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 22, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2016 by Katrina Roberts. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 22, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Katrina Roberts

Katrina Roberts

Katrina Roberts received her AB from Harvard University, where she studied with Seamus Heaney, and her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she studied with Jorie Graham.

by this poet

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A man walks into a 
museum in Paris, the Museum
of Natural History, to saw
 
a tusk off an elephant-
skeleton centuries-older than  
he’ll ever be, becoming

in those early morning hours  
part of a derelict and
inglorious human history,
 
while swallows darn

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Tracery

Not nostalgia but the bluer salt of longing, not sentiment but the smutted sky raining bitter sediment, not our winding blunder down into that wound, not the ash-riddled grotto nor the blood-orange blown-open

Not the mineral rash’s voice dubbed across the final unspooling reel,