Laura Newbern

Two poems from Laura Newbern’s A Night in the Country

followed by a note on the author

Madonna of the Meadow

Giovanni is very old and yet he is the best painter of all.
– Albrecht Durer, 1506

The painter Bellini spent half his life
painting portraits of the Madonna.
Among other things.
In an early version she and the child
glow in a box of dark.
A little bit later, the painter admits
to clouds in the world, floating on either side
of the mother and child’s world.
Later still, the Madonna lifts an apple with one hand
and cups the child in her lap with the other;
more importantly they are turned
to the right, just slightly, to where there is light
and, in the distance, a simple hill.
Until at last, in 1500, he brings the girl
and her burden outside, onto a field: bleak trees
on the left, a ragged chorus of clouds stealing
behind them, more hills, and a far
tower, looking like where they used to live.
He calls it a meadow, but there are hardly flowers,
and the clouds look like smoke belched
from the smokestacks—
but those are the trees. She wears
no halo. Holds the child there. Or rather
balances him, in her blue lap, where he seems
to sleep the sleep of an old man lost
at sea, and not in a meadow, not in a field at all.


The Burning West

Every fire has a name.
Today, the Detweiler fire, which sounds
like someone tentative but intent, someone
at the door. Hello?
It’s the Detweiler fire.

Herr Detweiler—that was the name
of the Von Trapps’ eager promoter
in The Sound of Music. In which
the baroness used to be bad—I mean, I used to think
she was awful; now I understand
and even admire her veils, her perfected hair.
She wanted a husband, a beautiful home;
she wanted those stony urns on either side
of the view of the blue river,
the handsome captain standing there with her.

But no one’s so safe. Out west
the mountains are veiled in smoke, the cool
mountains, the blue Pacific and all its mists
too far away. Not near enough.
Von Schraeder—

so was the baroness named: Elsa Von Schraeder.
Maria, you might remember, had no name
besides Maria; a simple name, and a simple blue dress
that made a blue light in the night—

You could see it through all the trees.


Laura Newbern grew up in Washington, D.C.. She currently lives in Georgia, where she teaches at Georgia College and edits the journal Arts & Letters. She is the author of Love and the Eye, selected by Claudia Rankine for Kore Press, and her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Threepenny Review, The Atlantic, Poetry, The Massachusetts Review, and elsewhere. The recipient of a Writer’s Award from the Rona Jaffe Foundation, she holds degrees from Barnard College, New York University, and the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.

Madonna of the Meadow and The Burning West first appeared in Barrow Street (Spring 2020).