Millais’ Return of the Dove

by M. G. Leibowitz

after John Everett Millais’ painting ‘Return of the Dove to the Ark

I.               and the girls have been floating
                 in this barn
                 for almost a year

                 remembering and forgetting
                 the simplest things

                 the white rocks of home soil
                 the water sitting meekly in ponds

                 the way sunlight streamed
                 shiftingly in a million shades

                 not like urine
                 in a single
                 yellow cord

II.              a year is not enough
                 to lose the word for green
                 but it’s more than enough time to misplace
                 the smell of it

                 how it rose to greet them
                 in the early morning
                 yeasty and sweet

                 the summer grass carrying it forward

III.            while at sea
                 no one breeds

                 not the lion the moss crab the ostrich the bee

                 even the sons
                 don’t dare touch them

IV.            then the dove—

                 slipping in
                 through the window
                 little heartbeat
                 more motion than sound

V.              and you imagine the girls
                 not rejoicing

                 but kissing the dove
                 with kisses of obligation

                 as they consider its neck

                 how feeble it is
                 just a handful of feathers

                 how simple it would be
                 how quick