M. Cynthia Cheung


M. Cynthia Cheung is a physician whose writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Dialogist, Journal of the American Medical Association, Palette Poetry, RHINO, Salamander, Sugar House Review, and others.

Madonna and Child

after the portrait of Catherine of Aragon by Michael Sittow I’ll say it again: I went to both marriages a virgin. See my white cap, its pleats lapping my face. My loosened hair. The painter asks me to imagine looking at something cradled in my palms so he can correctly mix the shadow of sockets and downcast lids. No other way, he says, because when the story begins Mary has no idea how it ends. My straight gaze would betray it all. He gives me a live infant. It’s a change to be sure. A fat-limbed, old-faced male child brushed into my not-dead arms. A silent goldfinch in his small fist, the other reaching for my mouth. If I were that bird, my child would be a bird. And under the snow-laden branches we would roost in our dark feathered lives, content to watch our pain pass far beneath us.

Catherine of Aragon remains a popular figure even in today’s mainstream consciousness. The reasons for this are both fascinating and tragic, and it’s easy to feel a personal connection to her. This portrait by Sittow—along with its two companion paintings—depicts her as a young woman, but I feel there is already something in her face that foreshadows what’s to come.