Jesus, His big green apple
face complete with leaves and stems,
stands straight and square as a board,
arms two-by-fours in coat sleeves,
fresh from either the tailor
or the lumber yard. That face—
apple too green to go gold.
Does it mean He hasn’t rolled
far enough from heaven’s tree—
what my pastor used to call
too heavenly-minded for
earthly good—unripe in life?
Too perfect for imperfect?
For the less-formally dressed
who drink coffee before dawn
and whiskey once dusk settles,
who in-between take His name
with intent and frustration
that they might not burst like trees
aflame, sap boiling inside?
How would such a man touch fire
and feel heat? To know what makes
patience crackle under bark,
heartwood bleed? White shirt, red tie
in a textbook knot. It’s all too smooth
for someone who can be touched—
a board or beam to carry
without splinters in our mind.
Magritte’s pencil sketch shows
one eye peer past the apple.
A comment the Lord’s ears still work?
That he sees and is getting
to know us by the half-sight
we all have for what blazes,
a wall behind Him, the sea
past that—a play on see and sea?
waves beyond stone, an ocean
of forget for the sake of
compassion, to know what burns.
Beneath the apple’s surface—
Jesus as Pinocchio?
No strings but His Father’s strings,
awkward and everything
to learn, like the rest of us?
His tie is blood, His shirt bone,
flesh under His overcoat
as pliant and fallible
as any sapling. So much
that perhaps the smoke-grey tone
of his coat may be a sign,
divine or otherwise? Taking
mortality for a test
spin has its own murky threads,
browning leaves—the potential
for rot with rain, exposure.
Maybe it’s more tree than board—
the portrait, paint deepening
where the pencil could just
outline, scratching the surface—
like stepping on the water
and not sinking, needing faith
for a second step and third step,
taking palette and paint brush
over wind and roiling waves
There’s always a fear to sink—
maybe why, in the painting
the apple hides both Christ’s eyes
and the sea is nebulous,
an azure gauze, more a fog,
hindering clear perception—
sea and see at odds again.
Between the hat and coat, doubt
hangs, a ripening green fruit
blocking both sight and distance,
knowledge darkening the skin.
Magritte meant the portrait as self.
The persistent, faithful self?
The self who stands in a chill,
hoping for his fear to clear
once the fog lifts? Self as Jesus,
standing inside where we stand,
not wearing us so much as
inhabiting? Seeing green—
leaf and stem and growing pain
hanging right in front of Him,
maybe not ready to bite
but there for Him and for us?
To gaze past fruit, through the seed
black and pregnant with meaning
to find I in eye and eye
without any eye in sight,
clouds slate and smoke over sea—
to find another apple,
another seed that may grow
in the painting and on earth.
Magritte’s painting brings Jesus’s humanity first and foremost to my mind. Hebrews 4:15 states in the New King James Version: “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” The fact He had the potential to become frustrated, angry, depressed, anxious—in short, human—makes Him completely relatable to me. That He stayed on earth as long as He did, going through problems just as we do so He could empathize with us and show us how to get through those things, impels me to love Him even more. Magritte’s calling his painting a self-portrait ties this concept even more tightly to both my mind and heart.
The pencil sketch mentioned in the poem is actually related to another Magritte painting, L’homme au chapeau melon. He painted a number of portraits in almost identical poses and attire, so conflating two of them in my mind is understandable. It does not change the basic concept of the poem—of Jesus attempting, just as we do, to peer through circumstances while attempting to persevere through them, perhaps glimpsing something better in the future and trying to become a little smarter in the process. Moreover, a commentator at ReneMagritte.org points out that the person’s eyes in Le fils de l’homme actually peer over the apple.
“At least it hides the face partly,” Magritte says. “...It’s something that happens constantly. Everything we see hides another thing...” [ReneMagritte.org].
is a Los Angeles-based writer and photographer with an MFA from California State
University, Long Beach. His work has appeared in San Pedro Poetry Review,
Synkroniciti, West Texas Literary Review, Gleam: Journal of the Cadralor,
MacQueen’s Quinterly, and other publications. His second poetry chapbook,
Beneath a Glazed Shimmer, won the 2019 Clockwise Chapbook Prize and was
published in February 2021 by Tebor Bach.
La Porte by Jonathan Yungkans in MacQ’s special
Christmas Eve issue (10X, December 2021)
Two Duplex Poems, plus author’s notes on the poems and on
the form, by Yungkans in Issue 10 of MacQ (October 2021)
Lawful and Proper, poem by Yungkans in Rise Up Review
Cadralor in the Key of F-Sharp as It Cuts into My Spine in
the inaugural issue of Gleam (Fall 2020)
I’d Love to Cook Like Hannibal Lecter [video], read
by the poet at an event sponsored by Moon Tide Press (10 October 2019) celebrating
the anthology Dark Ink: A Poetry Anthology Inspired by Horror
⚡ Saving the Patient, poem in The Voices Project
(18 January 2018)