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The Raising of Lazarus

                                                  Caravaggio
                                                  Oil on Canvas
                                                  380 cm x 275 cm


To me, he still looks dead: Lazarus, fallen,
limbs rigid like planks of broken balsa wood,
resting cold, like a dead man,
in the hold of another's arms, head bent back,
as if unable to support itself, or maybe

just dead, with Jesus still pointing,
cautiously, as if to say, Okay guys: let's try this again,
the dark edges collapsing around the crowd
as if neither the power of Christ nor the power
of Caravaggio could change this moment.

In fact, if Caravaggio hadn't titled this The Raising
of Lazarus
, I'd have no reason to think I was witness
to the impossible. Yet here I am, like those painted
into the crowd, watching the body for a flicker of life.
The flare of a lung. A tremble in the lips.

Here's the power of saying something, of suggestion,
where the suggestion—in this case, the painting's title—
makes the audience strain to see
what they're supposed to see: resurrection. In this way,
the title is an invocation of sorts, though my mother
used to say, Saying something doesn't make it true.

I have said all kinds of things that were never true.
Though I wanted them to be true, longed
for them to manifest, just as those
in this corridor long for Lazarus to rise.
Tell me: who hasn't been there among them—

who hasn't stood above a body:
a friend or parent, a cousin or brother. A room
with dead flowers and walls like the stone interior
of an ancient tomb, and who hasn't bent above that body
to plead: No, or Please come back, or You can't be dead.

Then the hours of watching.
Then the still life before you, as it remains still.


Matthew Olzmann

Contradictions in the Design
Alice James Books


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