by Cynthia Gallaher
The artist didn’t picture spartan desert Israel, the cool stucco Lazarus family household with parched roof and pebble floor, but instead, Here we are in northern-Renaissance Holland, within a still life given human action inside a prosperous Flemish kitchen, worktable laden with freshly gutted fish, dispatched goose, duck and rabbit, leg of lamb, Oil adrip from overturned vessels, lavish baskets and crockery, oversized and minute, a rotund cabbage from the garden, bushels of glossy fruit from the orchard, a ship’s marble figurehead obediently protects the hearth. And orchestrating today’s table-length festivities, Martha, woman of details, of step-by-step instructions, even chides guest-of-honor Jesus, Who’s seated in the painting’s columned background, a portico’s open doorway surrounding him in light, she asks why he’s allowed her sister not to pitch in to help, then stares back tensely at the duties that lay before her. While her sister Mary aligns fish and apples against her own apron, symbols of the salvation and the fall, and stares calmly into our own eyes with her meditative ponderance, Almost asking us, too, what path we would choose, to keep busy and productive taking care of earthly things? Or soon, like she, sitting at the feet of her master, to hear precious words firsthand, ones we can only absorb through written word, by faith, or through paintings like this. Jesus tells Martha, despite deeply knowing practical things, and meals like hers must also be done, day by day, but how “Mary has chosen the better part, which from her, will never be taken away.”
Cynthia Gallaher, a Chicago-based poet and visual artist, is author of four poetry collections, many with themes, including Epicurean Ecstasy: More Poems About Food, Drink, Herbs and Spices, and three chapbooks, including Drenched. Her nonfiction/memoir/creativity guide Frugal Poets’ Guide to Life: How to Live a Poetic Life, Even If You Aren’t a Poet won a National Indie Excellence Award.