Léon Bonnat, Christ on the Cross (Paris, 1874)

by J. S. Absher

Is death, posed, worth more than an artless life? The question
       troubles the art lover; she 
ransacks memory, old crow inspecting a corpse: 
       God, disease and history
endow the artist with the eye of memento 
     mori, with income enough  
from dead soldiers and crow-pecked proles to fund any
      taste—a lesson of the caws 
      in Père Lachaise, lost on Bonnat,

for he fetched from the salle de dissection a corpse 
     dead of indecipherable 
causes and nailed him to a cross, eager to glimpse 
     how a thin man of Adam
is altered by crucifixion, how a nameless 
     dead clochard becomes lucid 
for us, his suffering at last inescapable 
     of notice, on the edge of 
     the circle of our attention. 

J. S. Absher is a poet and independent scholar. His first full-length book of poetry, Mouth Work (St. Andrews University Press) won the 2015 Lena Shull Competition of the North Carolina Poetry Society. His second full-length collection, Skating Rough Ground, is scheduled to appear next year. Chapbooks are Night Weather (Cynosura, 2010) and The Burial of Anyce Shepherd (Main Street Rag, 2006). Absher is also preparing three books focusing on North Carolina and Southern US history, two of which (Love Letters of a Mississippi Lawyer and My Own Life, or A Deserted Wife) were published this year. He lives in Raleigh, NC, with his wife, Patti. Website: www.js-absher-poetry.com 

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