This isn’t about Leonardo’s brushstrokes,
the tempera pigments destined to decay
on the convent’s plaster wall, the remains
restored so many times even the ghosts
of the original—the stunned apostles
gesticulating, the glasses of thin wine--
have all gone down the gullet of time,
never to return, regardless of gospel.
This isn’t about the vanishing point
at Christ’s right temple, how our eyes
funnel into focus where the image dies
and comes back to life, his airy mind
the fulcrum of the flaking simulacra.
This isn’t about twelve men arguing
about betrayal, each refusing to bear
the weight of blame, unable to begin
to understand what’s at stake, bread
and wine hereafter fixed as ephemeral
sacraments, body and blood of a guy
who dies believing he’s been abandoned.
No, this is about the woman (she must
have been a woman) who hobbled out
of the kitchen to clean up the aftermath
of a feast for zealots. Picture her stacking
dirty plates, empty cups, not caring about
the rim that touched his lips, or the hard,
half-eaten loaf he held aloft as if it were
miraculous. It’s late and she’s too tired
to worry about the fate of these guests.
Thousands of last suppers exist and she
is in none of them, patient saint sweating
in the ash-darkened kitchen, bowlegged
and paying dogged attention to a simple
herring stew, or the ascension of water
and flour into bread. Let the fanatics
go on babbling at the crowded table.
This is about those who make manna
sing behind the scenes and stick around
to sweep after the ritual has ended.
Flesh converted back into crumbs,
spilled salt, the almost invisible
filaments of fish bones. Forgettable
table wine fading to vinegar.
• • •
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GREG EMILIO is a poet, a cook, and a critic living in Atlanta. His poems and essays appear in Best New Poets, Gastronomica, Nashville Review, North American Review, [PANK], Tupelo Quarterly, and the Southeast Review. He’s received awards and support from The Georgia Poetry Society, The Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and The Poet’s Billow. He earned his PhD in English from Georgia State University, and he teaches at Kennesaw State University. Kitchen Apocrypha, his debut collection of poetry, will be published by Able Muse Press in 2022.