I found out later this was meant to be a Pelican, but it’s still a nice poem I wrote in Florence in 1993, shortly after the death of my mother. I was in a museum where I saw a painting of Christ on the Cross, and above him was an image like the above mosaic. I was struck dumb with Stendhal Syndrome, left the museum, sat on a park bench sobbing, then picked up my pen and hastily wrote this down before it was lost.
Where drought-dry earth lay parched and cracked
A lake was once replete with fish and frogs and pampas grass
And water, clear and sweet
Here lay cygnets and mother swan
Awaiting certain death. All water, food and strength were gone
But with her final breath
She snaked her beak unto her chest
To rip her milkless breast. She gave her brood its only food —
A maternal sanguine feast.
And so they fed and drank her blood
And nourished, they grew strong
They made their haven from the winds without their mother’s song.
And where she lay her bloodied beak
An olive grew instead
To feed the birds who sought the fruitful bounty of her head.
And where her breast gushed forth its last
A clear and crystal spring
Did fill the lake and on it cast a shiny silver ring.