On Leonardo’s “Figures To Represent Labor” by Brett Foster

On Leonardo’s “Figures To Represent Labor”


Their various tasks make a human tower
rising out of the notebook bottom, or a mound
from which the pivotal figure has pulled
a gnarled, root-girdled stump. He’s dragging it
somewhere not seen, body in counter-angle,
anchored leg, lungs heavy with silent grunts.
The one below him might be sighing as
he drops his hoe once more forward. Dark lines
on his inner thigh stand for shadow,
suggest the artist’s hand when it quickens,
technically sure of its chiaroscuro.
Framing them, several vessel carriers
attempt their different means of transport—hip,
arm, or shoulder—whatever holds up longest;
a lone, staffed one like ferryless Charon;
a top aggressive pair that prefigure
two demons from Doré. No activity
exists, or else does but clearly stays there.
Thus no thought, no form becoming something more.
Promise of motion only. Yet one glimpse
supplies an energy, fire inside the leaden pose,
while repose is made articulate by each
mid-deed, modestly everlasting.




















Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

Leonardo_accompanying_DandreaAbout the Author
Brett Foster is the author of two poetry collections, The Garbage Eater (Triquarterly/Northwestern University Press, 2011) and Fall Run Road, which was awarded Finishing Line Press’s 2012 Open Chapbook Prize. A new collection, Extravagant Rescues, is forthcoming. His writing has appeared in AGNI, Boston Review, Columbia, Green Mountains Review, Harvard Review, Hudson Review, IMAGE, Kenyon Review, Pleiades, Poetry Daily, Raritan, Seattle Review, Shenandoah, Southwest Review, Subtropics, and Yale Review. He teaches creative writing and Renaissance literature at Wheaton College.