Poem of the Week

Caravaggio’s Narcissus

Callie Siskel

The surface of the water

does not offer perspective,

only the flat reality of the boy

in a puffed-up jacket,

crouched over water so darkly lit

one might mistake it

for high gloss on a stained floor.

No, that’s the earth

under his hands, one hand at the water’s edge,

the other, turned inward, immersed.

A single knee exposed—

the moon lost in its orbit

around a void.

The water unites

the boy and what the boy sees.

The water is the means; it does not mean anything.

Who would want to tell the boy

his knee is not the moon?

I want to tell the boy, keep looking,

brush the hair from his eye,

rotate his hand so his wrist

does not tire,

free his calf from the weight

of his knee.

Mostly, I want to be water,

the source of his love.

But I am on the ground

recreating the painting

looking down at my rug—

one hand on the fringe,

the other on the wood floor,

my knee already in pain

my heel sharp against my groin.

But at what cost?

I pay someone to ask me again and again and again.

Callie Siskel is the author of Two Minds, forthcoming from W. W. Norton in 2024. Her recent poems appear in The Atlantic, Kenyon Review, and New England Review. She is a poetry editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books.
Originally published:
June 21, 2023


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