There is a Renaissance painting of paradise
In which people, still in their human bodies,
Are embracing as if they’d just arrived in paradise
Or—because some are angels—were being welcomed to paradise.
Nobody in the picture looks like a ghost.
Even the angels, winged for paradise,
Wear embraceable bodies. It seems that paradise
For Giovanni di Paolo is a place of happy reunions.
And now, when we anticipate reunions
Like those in every moment, paradise
Is not exactly the place we hope to arrive.
It’s been made complicated—that arrival.
Our destination is where we hope to arrive.
Simple enough but now a paradox,
Since now we cannot be certain of our arrival
And have to pray simply that we arrive.
And of course we hope to arrive in our human bodies,
The ones we’ve always known since our arrival
On earth, the ones for which there are no rivals
Imaginable, except as an Italian ghost
Has painted them. But who wants to be a ghost,
Even if it means being part of a revival,
Even in such a classic, reunited
As form and content, body and soul’s reunion?
Let’s face it, only the hardiest can see union
With art as a satisfying arrival.
For most of us, our daily lives unite
Our needs for love and work. And their smooth union
Is, come to think of it, a blissful paragon,
A reason to tell the partner of our union,
Talking about our day over dinner, united
In crunching through bread and salad, of our body’s
Desire to be united with their body.
It’s a good day that ends with such a union.
And though we might still love each other’s ghost
And say so, what we desire is not a ghost.
What we desire is both the flesh and ghost,
The full consort together, the living union.
We know that’s health. We know that this new ghost
Of rumor and apprehension is a ghost
Like the horizon line, always arriving.
And now we have to live with the kind of ghost
That gives a bad name to every ghost—
I mean to every airy sense of paradise
Where the good—which should mean all of us—find paradise,
Despite the blemishes we’ve stuck to our ghosts.
It all comes back, doesn’t it, to the body?
We wish we’d never have to leave our bodies.
Or have to leave the way we think of our bodies.
Giovanni clothes the heavenly in the ghost
Of class and calling. He paints no naked bodies,
Despite our expectations of the body
In heaven, restored to a primeval union
With innocence and ignorance. He says we’ll be those bodies
Identified as us, and so we’ll dress our bodies
As we have understood them. Maybe after arriving
We’ll come to understand that to arrive
In heaven is to embrace a hidden body.
After all, this is but an interpretation of paradise,
Which says we bring our world with us to paradise.
I’m glad Giovanni di Paolo saw the arrival
Of souls in paradise as a time for reunion,
And not merely a mingling of bodiless ghosts.
I wish I could believe in that promise of paradise
As deeply as I believe in this mortal body.