Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2021  Vol. 20  No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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My Grandparents’ Velvet Painting of The Last Supper

I wasn’t allowed to touch Jesus, Peter, or John,
or any apostle at all, their forbidden skins

fuzzed in peach acrylic over the black velvet’s
short pile. My grandmother bought the kitsch

painting at a church fundraiser in Greenwood,
had my papaw hang it on their dining

room wall. If she noticed my elbow
propped on the dinner table during our summer

visits to Mississippi, she’d point to Judas—
the only guest in The Last Supper

with his elbow plopped on the tabletop—
click her tongue. As a kid, sometimes I’d walk

past the velvet painting and try to brush
its plush surface with my shoulder “by accident.”

But I’d chicken out since the apostles’
shocked expressions at Christ’s news

about the future betrayal seemed aimed
at me, too. Judas’s jaw, in the genre’s

iconography, always sits lower
than the others’ heads as a symbol

of his lowdown dirty nature and sinful
death by suicide. I’d learned what his skin

must’ve felt like much later, when I picked
out a pair of crushed velvet bell-bottoms

at the mall in the mid-nineties. The color:
midnight blue. So if I ever needed

a little drama to keep me awake in Algebra II,
all I needed to do was rub the top of my own

velvet thigh to feel the body of Judas move
under my desk, his leg soft—a breathless

shade of blue. I never told my grandmother
her scolding at the supper table had just made

Judas seem more human than the other apostles:
crude-mannered, relatable, remembered

only for his greatest mistake. I like to recall
the smaller one: his elbow on the table, his hand

posed to lift a napkin to those twitching lips
as if the story he had to tell could wait.  

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