“Parchment” by Michelle Boisseau

I’m holding the skin of a calf
that lived 600 years ago, translucent
skin that someone stretched on four strong poles,
that someone scraped with a moon-shaped blade.
Here is the flesh side, it understood true dark.
Here is the hair side that met the day’s weather,
the long ago rain.  It is all inscribed
with the dark brown ink of prayer,

the acid galls of ancient oaks, through these reds,
deluxe rivulets that brighten the margins,
are cinnabar ground to a paste, another paste
of lapis for these blue medieval skies,
and for flowering meadows or a lady’s long braids –
the orpiment – a yellow arsenic –
whose grinding felled the illuminator’s
boy assistants like flies, or the insect kermes

whose pregnant bodies gave pigment, and the goose
who supplied quills, the horse its hair, and flax
the fine strong thread that held the folded skins
into a private book stamped for a king.
See Philip Belcher’s interview with Michelle Boisseau in the Special Poetry Feature below.

recent-meR. T. Smith has edited Shenandoah since 1995 and serves as Writer-in-Residence at Washington & Lee. His forthcoming books are Doves in Flight: 13 Fictions and Summoning Shades: New Poems, both due in 2017.