hidden in the layers

After the Mona Lisa

under the surface of the other
before the varnish, before the signature
of color time discolored. Nothing like
the mouth sketched in the notebook. Nothing daring
like the red helicopter.

A portrait with a larger head and nose.
Heavy eyebrows as Vasari had described.
Bigger hands but smaller lips. The sitter
looking off, barely smiling.

Perhaps she had disgusted.
He’d erased the pearls, erased the knot that shoulders
goddess. They say that while he painted, buffoons
kept her amused. Musicians.

Kathleen Hellen

Note: Renaissance biographer Giorgio Vasari wrote about Da Vinci in the Lives of the Most Eminent Italian Architects, Painters, and Sculptors, which he published first in 1550.


Kathleen Hellen’s honors include the Thomas Merton poetry prize, prizes from the H.O.W. Journal and Washington Square Review, and her prize-winning collection Umberto’s Night. Her work has been featured on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily. Hellen’s latest poetry collection is The Only Country Was the Color of My Skin.

Listen to Kathleen reading Hidden in the layers (1:03)

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