Judith Contemplates Drunken Holofernes

Judith Beheading Holofernes, Artemisia Gentileschi

Gripping a hank of hair, you swivel his heavy head about,
marveling at this dumb, dull sight. So brash, so foolish,
this gallant leader of men, so cocksure of his safety.
What, after all, was there to fear from a widow woman?
He had filled, overfilled, the bowl of himself with wine.

You hoist an eyelid, and in the pool of his stare you see
yourself boldly gazing up through inky, brackish waters.
Soon, you’ll do what you came to do, but it’s not time yet.
Soon, you’ll pass his dripping, ragged-necked head to your maid,
who’ll drop it into her bag of meat, but now, wait . . . wait.

The only sound is his grape-soured breath, his gurgling belly.
Soon, you will take his war-worn sabre and raise it high,
knowing nothing of how you’ll live forever in museum oils.
Caravaggio will have you seem so calm and clinical,
as if you’re doing nothing more than butchering a calf.

Giorgione will show you later, serene after the deed.
Botticelli, and Donatello, too, will depict you as cool.
Only Gentileschi, a woman, will show us your true face.
Raped by Tassi, only she will know the cold pleasure
of your vengeance as your arms freckle an iron red.