Vicky McKay: Dream of Joachim

A suitcase

I read TJ Clark’s Heaven on Earth by the side of a swimming pool in Spain. The reproductions of Giotto’s ‘Dream of Joachim’ flood over the cover and through the book.

In the warm sunshine, in the blue vapour of water and chlorine, it was difficult to register anything except the posture of Joachim folded in on himself in front of a cold shadow. A little fold of his robe flips out and touches the bottom of the composition. I tucked my toes under a towel, wary of sunburn.

A fleece

Giotto was the son of shepherds and he knew sheep better than I know God.

Giotto’s sheep are not for the virtuous. The shepherds giving each other smirking and frustrated side eye are not there for the priest. The chapel’s smiling donkeys are for me and the children, stuck in church, sucking gums and daydreaming.

Joachim and his old, barren bones trying to find comfort on the sandy grey ground. The angels are not bound to material realities, carrying messages of bloodless conception and acceptance. I’m in the flock who can’t find purchase on the rocks.

A clear acrylic box

The Scrovengi Chapel is high and narrow, there are railings to grab on to for the vertigo. Giotto’s frescos, panel after panel, run around the room in sequence and there is a blue heat from the ceiling.

When lockdown came I was already shielding. The clinically extremely vulnerable were boxed up, wrapped up, and put safely away. I had a scalding hot bath every morning to put my mind back inside my body, something between the nightmares and the stasis. Something to relieve the pressure that pushed me down into the horizontal, the hollow, pressing weight of it.

An offcut of silver leather

My aunt died before I met her. She carpeted her rural bungalow with white, deep-pile carpet. That was my mother’s exposition of Elizabeth’s childlessness, both cause and effect. Other than that, what I know of her comes from two boxes of embroidery materials left over from her estate.

I can manipulate these shared materials but the proximity facilitates compassion more than understanding. Context without connection. History read into the present is not bound to its material.

The silver leather rocky horizon is lifted, unchanged, from one of those boxes, straight from her hands.

A folded fragment of cloth

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