- The Calling of St. Matthew: X-ray Photograph
Call it a gift, Christ's opening of the mouth of the room with His hand. As if it could speak. Overhead, an ellipse, left imperfect, hovers. Beardless men flare their peacock sleeves, grease the face of the money table in silk. Under a lamp of paint, they come to count on their friend's sudden departure, as we have, minutes before closing, arrived with an unexpected flock of school children, the live silica of their voices filtering around Caravaggio's canvas in San Luigi degli Francesi, a short walk from the Pantheon, where you noticed what looked like mortar blasts in the inscription to Agrippa. [End Page 30] We slide another coin into the spotlight's slot, and Matthew has never seen so far into the faces of coins. Still, he must catch Christ's hand horizonward, bending the currency of his stare, as the students close around the painting, around us, the clicks from their flashless cameras bruising the gift of our last day in Rome. Earlier, under the ocular lens of the Pantheon, we counted the centuries before the invention of photography, imagined Agrippa grasping the spade that laid its face down first in the dirt where the Pantheon now stands, facing McDonald's off-screen in two million photos per year. Earlier still, we searched every tourist shop a mile from here for an early photo of the Pantheon and found it – women in full dress, horse and carriage tethered to the pillars' enormity. Men wore hats.You thought early 1900s. Why do we return? Back at San Luigi with the Pantheon rolled in its cardboard scepter, I point you towards St. Peter – fingerprint, luscious smudge – whom X-rays prove is a present, an afterthought in this painting's party whose end is also its future, where food never restson the table, never will. You shush the students. They stare with the astonishment of martyrs. People once died for art. For less. For the last time today, the spotlight's eye closes. The students disband, one waving from the door mouth, stalled, throwing his handacross the face of the floor, as Christ's hand [End Page 31] behind the late addition of St. Peter. This all occurs, by the way, thousands of years after the first image of Christ was burned into the catacombs of San Sebastiano. And if it's true that among his apprentices Caravaggio kept a lover, one he painted over and over, we imagine the boy in his own brief celebrity, oiled by the inevitable camera flash, burning him deeper into the church our coming here has made of us. Later, you say the Pantheon would look best above our bed.
Chad Davidson won the Crab Orchard Prize in poetry for Consolation Miracle (Southern Illinois UP). His work appears in Hotel Amerika, Agni, and Virginia Quarterly.