No angel with uplifted hand, no symbol

of the Holy Spirit, gliding down on

gilded beams”and for all we know the woman

is no virgin. Still, any woman reading

is an annunciation. Vermeer knew this:

reading is parthenogenetic, magic

doubling of the self fertilized by words.

His girl reading stands in profile but floats

full-faced”ghostly”in leaded window panes.

On a table, among rich draperies, lies

her half-eaten peach, dark seed ringed by flesh

radiant as the infant’s in some nativity.

Hooper’s woman sits, before turning back

the antiseptic sheets, nearly nude and bent

above her book. Her cell-like room argues

the world is a disease (sparse furnishings

the hues of bodily fluids, one wall shadowed

like a bruise.) And the light! the woman reads

in the glare of the examining room,

the operating room. But if you think

the room speaks of defeat (isn’t it defeat

we find in narrow places?) consider whom

she resembles most: Mary clinging to her book

as she withholds her gaze from Gabriel.