Catherine was sentenced to be tortured on a spiked wheel, but the wheel flew apart and the fragments killed many of her accusers. After this and other marvels, Catherine was beheaded, and from her veins flowed not blood but milk.
– Biography of Catherine of Alexandria
Her face a still puzzle,
Raphael’s Saint Catherine
rests a round arm against the top curve
of what looks like nothing more
than a cast-off wagon wheel
placed on that brown hillside
to support her as she yearns
toward a beckoning heaven.
Raphael turns her in two directions:
her pale head and neck
shining toward the sky,
the brown of her dress
falling back toward a drab earth.
Then he paints the white breasts
rising behind a muted bodice,
breasts that insist on the fleshy realities
of sex, sweat, milk, blood,
as the faint nimbus behind her head
lifts her toward what claims her:
a God who creates houses of flesh,
a landlord who orphans the souls
within them as his portion.
Catherine stands in perfect submission,
an axis bisecting heaven and earth,
her face full of serene longing,
a modest bride, yet charged with desire,
awaiting ravishment as a good child awaits a sweet.
And almost hidden in the brown grass,
the wheel supports her reverie
and waits to do its work.