The Ghiberti Doors

Poem by F.D. Reeve

Coming on a door you turn the knob
to let its musty secrets out to air,
but here you stand amazed at a bronze pair
suspended in the Tuscan sunlight. You touch
and talk of them as if old doors were such
unmoving things an architect could declare
they are but fragments of a building where
a wall opens or a corner gathers dust.
Doors’ discoveries can be sensational—
perhaps a royal adulteress caught unaware,
a boy’s face pressed to her black hair,
watched by a maid who has a master key.
Here the font by holy alchemy
opens into four concentric spheres
while underneath the gilt entablature
art hangs mutely like an occasional
verse inscribed on a small child’s silver cup;
Venus floats forgotten on the sacred air,
and the love you dreamed of, like Augustine’s pear,
is taken, tasted, and made up.

Imagine the gilt pure gold, liars like Jacob
leaning out for air, the obedient hounds
quick for the hunt, no man caring which brother robs
or what the women think who fill the background;
down front, showing the motion of her mind,
Eve right-hands God for the body of mankind.
Tote up the civil gains from then to now,
add alphabets and ships, calculate
the shape of space, the distance to the moon,
the circumference of law, the annual rate
        deserts die and land turns into sea;
        bless the remaining days of earth’s orange eye.
As a bookkeeper rubs out wrong figures, for the nonce
the scholars of Florence have scoured time’s defacement
of saints’ miraculous hopes and people’s impatience
that like dirt from the hands of history had overladen
        Moses in Egypt, the shimmering kingdom of David,
        Solomon’s justice, and cost Samson his head.
These little men and women in shining bronze
carry on their lives as if there were no end,
blind Isaac pretends to see, and God with a beard
stands tall like a working man. His story bends
        around the earth like light around the sun,
        splitting the air and blacking the space it burns.

“The Ghiberti Doors” was first published in The Sewanee Review.