Ekphrasis of St. Sebastian

For El Greco, the body becomes
a perfect target with both hands
bound; knotted rope around the

wrists of St. Sebastian—
patron saint of soldiers—tied
to the trunk of the martyr tree.

See how the blanched corona
dims into the shape of a crown,
how the fletchings on the arrows

—each feather painted with a
single stroke—blur into birds
cleaning the meat from saintly

ribs, unraveling knots from his
hair with their beaks. Look how
soft the body seems hitched

against the hard curve of the oak
tree. Look at St. Sebastian’s
thousand yard stare, neck bent

like a heavy wick, gazing out from
the frame of the painting, eyes
paralyzed in praise at the moment

of ascension, and his mouth, a slash
from the painter’s knife, closed
forever around the words

I need to hear: Do not measure
my faith by recitation of prayer,
but by the number of arrows shot
into the soft bread of my body.