The Virgin Learning to Read by Julia Griffin
The mother smiles, one finger poised to guide
Her daughter’s eyes along a page of wood.
The child’s small hands hold up the book: a good
Pupil. We cannot see the text inside.
How kindly those old sculptors understood: –
Behold a girl, her parents’ care and pride,
Endowed with a humanity denied
To her in birth, in death, in motherhood.
In the beginning were the words God said:
The little figure waits, already stirred
By that strange breath, already part bereft:
Observe the upraised hands, the neat bent head.
Be it with me according to Thy word.
Imagine Hebrew letters: right to left.
Julia Griffin lives in Southeast Georgia with a demanding basset hound. Inspired originally by her father, she has been writing verse for decades, but has only recently found a home for it—mostly in wonderful Light. To win a prize named after Kim Bridgford has delighted and honored her more than she can express.
Praise for the winning sonnet:
There is a quiet authority and sure-footedness to this ekphrastic Italian sonnet that appeals to me. The pure rhymes are not strained, but fall in a natural syntax. The most moving line comes just before the volta: that Mary is generally denied a humanity in “birth, in death, in motherhood,” which this observed almost universal moment (a child being taught to read) returns to her. The ending, in an unusual rhetorical gesture, is a small corrective to our imagination, a reordering, that, with its tweak of precision, places the universal moment in a specific context.
–A. E. Stallings, Judge