Detail of a Peacock
Nestling in the niche between the chapel’s crumbling
arches, his long blue neck plucks nibbles of tessera.
He wanders through mosaic parables like something risen
out of time, wearing fashion all wrong for Byzantium—
a jaunty tri-plume hat in an age of halos. You presume
at first this must have been a gold-leaf sermon contra
vanity, or like those tapestry-arrested unicorns, an
attempt to tame our lusts of flesh. His sumptuous blue
feathers with their knowing eyes seem destined
for a harem girl’s accessory, so what are they doing here?
What Augustine wrote at Carthage, though, unveils
the peacock’s changing reputation, that before
its current turn as vain pretender, or the empty suit,
the Church discovered peacock flesh does not decay.
So poke at any early Christian tomb and there
they preen, depictions of life that does not die, the
incorruption of brief bodies made eternal. How every
year a feather’s molt returns brighter and more beautiful.
This long-necked fellow settles into tessellation,
his plumage not quite all unfurled
so not to draw too much attention, but whispers that
he’s hiding here for now, a creature caught
in colored bits of glass, waiting till these ruins
are restored to make his move.
Jen Stewart Fueston has taught writing at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and in Hungary, Turkey, and Lithuania. “Detail of a Peacock,” which first appeared in The Cresset, draws on early church imagery, and echoes Ephesians 1:18, and 2:6 & 7. Her two chapbooks are: Visitations (2015) and Latch (2019, River Glass Books). Her poetry has been selected for In A Strange Land: Introducing Ten Kingdom Poets (Poiema Poetry Series).
Posted: 20 March 2019