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  • Praying to Fra Lippi’s Mistress
  • Dzvinia Orlowsky (bio)

Make them forget there’s such a thing as flesh.

— Robert Browning


Opening the triptych panels wide, I kissed faceless

what I thought for years was the true Madonna

saying prayers before I pulled back my bedding, washed off my make-up.

I watched her disappear over time, smear into a red window.


In art history books we learned she wasn’t sacred after all,

but, rather, Friar Lippi’s mistress, Lucrezia Buti,

for whom he risked everything;

set against steep cliffs and stunted trees,

the glow of her skin rising over the banks of angels. [End Page 47]


I’ve watched my daughter press her cheek against hers,

slowly trace with her finger the large pear-shaped pearl

hung low on the Madonna’s shaved, perfectly domed forehead.

But if the Madonna wasn’t sacred to Fra Lippi, what would he have done with us?

Would he have painted the skin of my daughter’s cheek

as she knelt in prayer, her long brown hair cascading down her back?

She places a kiss on what’s left of Lucrezia’s face.

Afterwards, she gently wipes her mark.


There’s space left by adoration to place one’s face.

This is a woman, this is flesh. We know what’s ours to pray for —

all of us, sumptuous vanishing points.

Cloud of breath, heavy dew. [End Page 48]

Dzvinia Orlowsky

Dzvinia Orlowsky is a Pushcart Prize recipient, founding editor of Four Way Books, and author of four poetry collections published by Carnegie Mellon University Press, including her most recent, Convertible Night, Flurry of Stones (2008), cowinner of the 2010 Sheila Motton Book Award. Her fifth poetry collection, Silvertone, is forthcoming from CMUP in 2013. She currently teaches at the Solstice Low-Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing of Pine Manor College in Boston, and at Providence College, Rhode Island.



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pp. 47-48
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