Agatha fixes her gaze on her school priest, Father Quinn, a quadragenarian who looks half his age, as he tells the story of the Shroud of Turin. Religious matters hold little interest for Agatha. She longs to get back to her convent school friends. Father Quinn is still talking. Agatha sits up straight. Her nostrils quiver, a sign she is paying attention.
“The Shroud might date from the time of Christ’s resurrection. Or it might be a clever forgery. You must come to your own conclusion, Agatha. I expect a 500-word essay on my desk, first thing tomorrow.”
Agatha consults Wikipedia but understands little of what she reads. She often is described as the opposite of quick-witted, and her online perusal finds nothing quotable. Hunched over her laptop, her quiescent beauty simmers with what her future holds: One day Agatha will wear the crown of queenhood. Her father’s royal kingdom, once great, has devolved into a minor one. It was purchased between the wars, when oil was a valuable commodity.
That night Agatha sends a quick email to her father’s envoy. When Agatha awakes, she sees a painting placed against her wall. On the back is a note stamped with the royal seal, a quatrefoil. It reads: “Sending along a little gift from His Royal Highness to Father Quinn. It is a reproduction, of course. We trust he will enjoy it, and also accept this gift in lieu of your written essay.”
Agatha stares at the painting. She cannot take her eyes off the artist’s handiwork, how closely it matches the image she found on Wikipedia. She dresses quickly and finds Father Quinn in his office. She begs him to come to her convent room, although it is forbidden for any man, even priests, to enter. Father Quinn has definite quibbles but gives in to Agatha’s pleas. Not long after, the couple is discovered by Mother Superior. Father Quinn is in a state of high agitation about the painting’s provenance. He swears it is an original painting of the original shroud. Before day turns to dusk, Agatha’s bags are packed. Her father sends one of his private jets. Agatha exits the story here.
Father Quinn, poor man, turns into something of a heretic. He takes to tilting at windmills, telling anyone who will listen how The Holy Shroud, by Giovanni Battista della Rovere (ca. 1575–ca. 1630), came into possession of Mother Superior of the Sisters of the Poor, although it was meant for him. A rather quixotic tale, and one which may be true. And which also relates to the question of questions: Does the Holy Shroud, the inspiration for the painting, exist in God’s image? Or is it a forgery? Tune in tomorrow for the quintessence of storytelling as related by Yours Truly, Creator of the Quaeritur Podcast.
—Finalist in “The Question of Questions” Ekphrastic Writing Challenge
The Holy Shroud (oil on canvas, 21.6 inches x 17.3 inches)
by Giovanni Battista della Rovere (ca. 1575–ca. 1630)*
second collection of short poems, Carousel, is co-winner of the Snapshot Press 2019 book award contest. Her first short-form collection, The Unworn Necklace, received a finalist book award from the Poetry Society of America. Her collection of prose poetry, Deflection (Accents Publishing, 2015), was named a National Poetry Month Best Pick by Washington Independent Review of Books.
Long-time haibun editor of Modern Haiku, Ms. Beary is also co-editor of Wishbone Moon: An Anthology of Haiku by Women (Jacar Press, 2018), and she recently judged the Sable Books Haiku Contest for Women Book Award.
Her writing has appeared in Rattle, KYSO Flash, 100 Word Story, Cultural Weekly, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and The New York Times, and is also featured in A Companion to Poetic Genre (John Wiley & Sons, 2011) and Haiku In English: The First Hundred Years (W. W. Norton, 2013).
Ms. Beary lives in the west of Ireland with her husband, Frank Stella, and tweets her photoku and micro-poetry on Twitter [at] shortpoemz.
⚡ Featured Guest: Roberta Beary on Rattlecast 133 hosted by Tim Green, editor of Rattle poetry journal (YouTube, 28 February 2022)
⚡ Featured Author: Roberta Beary in MacQueen’s Quinterly (Issue 12, March 2022)
⚡ Roberta Beary, haiku poet and editor, on writing Haibun, interview with Mike Rehling, editor of Failed Haiku (YouTube, 8 February 2021)
⚡ Tiny Love Stories in The New York Times (8 January 2019); scroll five stories down the page for Roberta Beary’s “Now It’s All Fresh Fish” and her photograph of lobster traps in Clew Bay, Ireland.
⚡ The art of brevity, an interview by Ciara Moynihan in Mayo News (22 January 2019)
⚡ Lunch Break, a haibun by Beary in Rattle (#56, Summer 2017), Tribute to Poets with Mental Illness; includes audio (17 July 2017)