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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 11: January 2022
Poem: 530 words
+ Poet’s Note: 254 words
By Jonathan Yungkans

Le fils de l’homme

—After the painting by René Magritte
 
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? 

* 

Perception’s cerulean—
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. 

 

 

Poet’s Note

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].

 

Publisher’s Note:

Le fils de l’homme (The Son of Man) (oil on canvas, 1964) by Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte (1898–1967), is perhaps his best-known artwork. The original is held in a private collection and rarely exhibited publicly.

An image and additional details are available at Rene Magritte: Biography, Paintings, and Quotes.

See also 10 Things You Might Not Know About The Son of Man by Kristy Puchko in Mental Floss (27 April 2015). Since the publication of Puchko’s article, the original painting was exhibited in 2018 at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, with dozens of other works by Magritte.

Jonathan Yungkans
Issue 11, January 2022

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.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

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 (Fall 2020)

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)

 
 
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