Iowa Writes

KIMBERLY JOHNSON
The Doctrine of Signatures


Giambattista Porta, sunburned, intent
on the ranunculus, repositions
his sketchpad, headscratches whether the bloom

more resembles a red homunculus
fainting in swoon or a rheumatic fist.
His other sketches show in minute hand

the likenesses of lung to lungwort, the bruise
of color through the iris, the beetroot
swollen like a dropsical foot, the field

splayed in lovely, grotesque anatomies.
He is careful in his study, careful
painting his pocket apothecary

to let each plant reveal by its sure signs
what it will cure. He loves the body so—
not with a charnel curiosity,

not like louche bone thieves and hair-sellers
but with the relic seeker's hopeful greed,
or like Solomon smitten, who sang

Giambattista Porta, sunburned, intent
on the ranunculus, repositions
his sketchpad, headscratches whether the bloom

more resembles a red homunculus
fainting in swoon or a rheumatic fist.
His other sketches show in minute hand

the likenesses of lung to lungwort, the bruise
of color through the iris, the beetroot
swollen like a dropsical foot, the field

splayed in lovely, grotesque anatomies.
He is careful in his study, careful
painting his pocket apothecary

to let each plant reveal by its sure signs
what it will cure. He loves the body so—
not with a charnel curiosity,

not like louche bone thieves and hair-sellers
but with the relic seeker's hopeful greed,
or like Solomon smitten, who sang

Sheba into gardened fame: Thine eyes, love,
are as the fishpools in Heshbon, thy breasts
the grape-clustered vine, thy nose like apples.

Queenly woman, she must have smiled to read
herself disfigured by his praise, all that
wisdom for a miscellany: sheepflock teeth,

armored neck and a honeycomb tongue,
immortal and unrecognizable,
inly wishing he'd just learn her favorite flower,

remember every dress she ever wore.
But as she posed swooning in his arms
like limber meadowsweet, she sensed how love

seeks to remedy its shortfalls with compares,
how the body makes monsters of us all.

more

About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


KIMBERLY JOHNSON

Graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and recent winner of an NEA Creative Writing Fellowship, Kimberly Johnson is the author of Leviathan with a Hook and the forthcoming A Metaphorical God.

This page was first displayed
on November 16, 2007

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