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  • By Lily Prigioniero

Restoring Pontormo’s Veronica

I swear he breathed down my neck.

I smelled his pungent manhood,

grimy crusts on his pant thighs

he was no faint knight

a madman in artists clothing.

I could see it in the swipes

of his angel’s feeta brush thick

as the Fire-eater’s brow

and with a dab from his thumb

he created Veronica’s smallest toe.

I felt the energy of his prime

conjuring Veronica’s purest form

womanhood enticing him

under her spell—holding the cloth

of Christ’s Imprint, or perhaps his own.

I hesitated then to be up there

with the rumble of traffic below

stripping us bare of time. I let go

my brush so as not to touch

the Veronica he guarded so well.

His stormy emotions blew me down

numb on the cusp of the scaffold boards,

my legs dangling as his words breathed

through his love’s stare and his own glare

My Veronica is not to be touched.

But his lunatic ghost had no power

over time’s clutch. I finally stood and began

my fearful cleaning—centuries of grime

and history’s dust removed from the last stroke

of his hard caressing brush.

Lily Prigioniero graduated from University of Michigan in English literature then moved to Florence, Italy, to study Art Conservation where she was certified and hired to work on some of Tuscany's greatest masterpieces. In the meantime she received her Masters in creative writing from the Università degli Studi di Siena where her novel, La Cena del Tacchino, won the “Premio Selezione” for the international literary prize Premio Internazionale Anguillara Città d’Artein Rome. She translated the catalogue for the Mappelthorpe/Michelangelo exhibit Perfection in Form in the Accademia in Florence, and was a featured poet for the Ekphrastic Review as well as a judge for their “Ekphrastic Challenge”. Her poems have also been published in the Orchard Poetry Journal, The Road Not Taken, Grand Little Things, Italian Americana, and the poetry collection 3,651 Years Lived. She has taught writing for New York University’s Global Studies program, Brandeis University’s Midyear program, and art conservation and ancient techniques at the Florence University of the Arts. She lives with her family near Florence.



May 16, 2022

I really like this poem, as it combines a sensuous intimacy with a wild spirituality that, as Poe said, "excites the soul". The sense of a simultaneity of eternity, a timeless link between the poet-restorer's, the painter and God, is palpable and real. The form , I think, very much compliments the spirit of this poem, only hinting at rhyme, soft, barely noticeable vowel assonance and a gently rising and falling rhythm all combine to amplify the effect. But it is the overall intent of the poem that is most important, for I believe it conveys the true nature of the relationship we, as poets, artists, musicians or just as lovers of beauty have with the past and the grea…

Jul 01, 2022
Replying to

Thank you for this comment! I’ve never had such an in-depth observation on any of my poems. This means a great deal to me and will treasure your words. Thank you!


May 15, 2022

There is great energy in this poem, Lily, and you yourself react to energy (verse 3). I could tell that you were describing a very real and hands-on experience before I read your brief biography. For me, your big achievement here is that you have made your poem as alive and fresh and human as you perceived Pontormo's 'Veronica' to be when you first set about your work. And writing good poetry, when you are in tune with the muse, is very much like restoring what is already there in your own head, but a bit elusive for a while. Your two occupations seem to compliment each very well in that they are both key components in the same creative…

Jul 01, 2022
Replying to

Thank you, Lily, for this. It's always good to have feedback from the poet about his or her own work, and this really is right up there with the best poems that I've seen this year. I look forward to reading other works by you in The Chained Muse in the near future.

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