The Rebirth of Venus

He’s knelt to fish her face up from the sidewalk
all morning, and at last some shoppers gather
to see it drawn – wide-eyed, and dry as chalk –
whole from the sea of dreams. It’s she. None other

than the other one who’s copied in the book
he copies from, that woman men divined
ages before a painter let them look
into the eyes their eyes had had in mind.

Love’s called him too, today, though she has taught
him in her beauty to love best
the one who first had formed her from a thought.
One square of pavement, like a headstone (lest

anyone mistake where credit lies),
reads BOTTICELLI, but the long-closed dates
suggest, instead, a view of centuries
coming unbracketed, as if the gates

might swing wide to admit, here, in the sun,
one humble man into the pantheon
older and more exalted than her own.
Slow gods of Art, late into afternoon

let there be light: a few of us drop the wish
into his glinting coinbox like a well,
remembering the forecast. Yet he won’t rush
her finish, though it means she’ll have no shell

to harbour in; it’s clear enough the rain
will swamp her like a tide, and lion-hearted
he’ll set off, black umbrella sprung again,
envisioning faces where the streets have parted.


from Henry Purcell in Japan (Alfred A. Knopf, 1985), © Mary Jo Salter 1985, used by permission of the author

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2The Rebirth of Venus

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3Unfinished Painting

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4Summer 1983

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5Boulevard du Montparnasse

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6Young Girl Peeling Apples

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16A Phone Call to the Future

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18The Gods

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20It's Hard to Say

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21No Second Try

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22String of Pearls

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23Complaint for Absolute Divorce

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24Bed of Letters

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