The John Edward Johnson Prize
Saint Paul Making Three Appearances on the Stage of His Illuminated Initial
After a mid-twelfth-century manuscript in Oxford’s Bodleian Library
Behold him at the crown, preaching
amidst domes and arches of Damascus.
Saint Paul here haloed, bearded,
eyebrows furrowed. His forefinger curls
toward his disciples who cradle
in the new red moon crescent.
Garment drape and swirl
like tide swallow, ocean swell.
See him again as bird-like hands
grasp the ropes to lower his basket
down the stem of the P.
He holds up two fingers,
smiles a blessing to the cluster
of worried faces at the window.
Behold him finally at the base.
Beneath the cresting wave of his own
hunched back, he turns his head
away from the black-bearded grimace
of his executioner, whose hand,
pressing Saint Paul’s neck
to bare it for the blow
melds into the very curve of his halo.
From a corner of sky above them,
a hand reaches down, signs dove,
mockingbird, perhaps laughing gull.
The sword is drawn and raised, blue
and transparent as water, as though death
is a trickle stream you can see right through.