Lesley Valdes

In the parking lot in front of the Shell station


In the parking lot in front of the Shell station,

a chair, a prie dieu


like the nuns used.


Mahogany—worth something

even if you didn’t pray—and the chair                                                         


inviting hips ampler than hers.

Made for whom?


You want what?

Incredulity. His.


They needed a table,

a bed.


But the chair

laddering hope to home


curved slats bridging then to then—

across now—


looming tall for daughters unborn

to scramble to its lap


trace the curled top, a Napoleon hat,

framing then to then


across now—

She’s at art school, the eldest.


Top prize for the life-size Picasso-ish horse,

noble slant to bronze head.


I was thinking of the chair.





The summer I came back East

friends lent their fine old house—


A spider to the pomegranate,

lush window seats, a purple


couch. My friends had lived in Jeddah,

good jewels and spices.


Above the fireplace, his ancestors eyed

each other; hers painted the 18th-century


botanicals. I wanted things

I’d never thought about—sea glass,


an idle table.


Considering the poet’s library

I couldn’t write. I fed the birds,


the squirrels—myself.

At night I was afraid


of one brown bat.

The day I left I went into the kitchen,


took her cutting board

shaped like a pig.



In the Spanish Chapel


On the ceiling the ocean tips a boat too small to hold eleven men.

Some stare into the sea, some stand as I stand seasick

                                         looking up at them.

Under the swollen mast one covers his face, another could be Peter

the one who makes me want to shout

                                         Sit down!


Who made this fresco understands the dread that sleeps in water,

                                         the worry of the swells.

I find his name and learn my apprehension

missed the miracle—  

                                         Peter kneeling in the sea

                                         beneath his strolling Lord.


Do you believe in ghosts?

Before the Spanish Eleonora took the space,

it was the Chapel of the Faults.

Dominicans confessed their sins out loud.

You see them painted on another wall

                                         rows and rows of monks

                                         pretending not to mind.

The power of Florence.  The piety.  


Sweetgrass. I can’t forget the herding of a hundred thousand

sheep across the Beartooth Mountains.  Magnificent

bewildered creatures caught in blinding white.

The looks upon their faces

                       —the men in Peter’s boat


(After Andrea di Bonaiuto’s frescoes in Santa Maria Novella, Florence)



After several decades as a classical music critic, Lesley Valdes returned to her first love and completed a degree from the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers.



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