By Jason Irwin 

Lamb of God
after Agnus Dei by Francisco De Zurbaran

I begin at the horizon line, at the far-right
of the canvas, just above the hind shank,
where the pitch-black void infringes upon
the soft, almost buttery glow of the wool,
then, panning left, direct my gaze downward,
following the topography of the lamb’s
mountainous back, until my eyes comes to rest
in the hollow where the neck meets
the head & further still, beyond the horns,
I arrive at the lamb’s own, half-closed eye—
an outcropping, or an island of birch trees
stranded in a desolate, snowy expanse.
Only when I back away, studying it as if
from a great distance, do I understand
this is a portrait of surrender,
& I trace the lamb’s features the way
I traced the lines in your face—bones
pulling your skin taut, the dark pools
of your eyes glistening & vacant—
that January morning you lay dying.

From this distance I see the twine
fastened around the lamb’s legs,
how I imagine Abraham tied Isaac.
& the darkness that swaddles the lamb
feels so familiar. I’m certain I’ve woken
to its presence before, as a child,
perhaps, or just last week, startled
by the wind, or some phantasm—
woke, to a darkness so imminent & pure
I felt as if my own limbs were bound.

Jason Irwin is the author of the three full-length poetry collections, most recently The History of Our Vagrancies (Main Street Rag, 2020). He was a 2022 Zoeglossia Fellow and has also had nonfiction published in various journals including the Santa Ana Review, & The Catholic Worker. He grew up in Dunkirk, NY & now lives in Pittsburgh, PA USA.