Ilyse Kusnetz

Gift Horse

Never look a gift horse in the mouth.
-St. Jerome, On the Epistle to the Ephesians
About The Last Supper
this much is known:
left unfinished by da Vinci,
it moldered
on the refectory wall,
twenty damp Milanese
winters, until Vasari
dismissed it
as merely a mass of blots.
Over time, monks
hammered a doorway
through Mark’s legs,
and one long evening
Napoleon’s soldiers,
garrisoned there for winter
blew away the head and
hands of Christ.
In WWII, when a bomb
leveled Santa Maria
delle Grazie,
the mural survived.
Of da Vinci’s original
work, however, only a few
brushstrokes remained.
His Saint Jerome was luckier.
In a pawn-shop by
the Vatican, Napoleon’s uncle
discovered its torso, and later
amid a wilderness
of broken glass, the head, as if
proof of miraculous returns,
and it’s true, what is lost to us
is sometimes found – though
changed somehow, or incomplete;
a jug of wine, a loaf of bread
stolen away from your heart’s table,
head lolling
like a sad cloud
over your body’s remembered heat.
But isn’t a thing’s beauty
in how it resists
all that would destroy it?
How, sometimes, faith rises whole
and swift-limbed
from such burnt offerings –
the gift horse, whose mouth
we climb inside
to carry ourselves home.

Ilyse Kusnetz
“Gift Horse” first appeared in Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, Issue II: Volume III, October 2011.