A portion of a fresco painting of a woman collecting flowers

In her third collection of poems, Daywork, published in March by Milkweed Editions, English professor Jessica Fisher considers the longevity of art and the brevity of human life. The titular poem, “Daywork,” takes its name from giornata—“the name in fresco painting for the section of wet plaster that can be painted in a single day, where each ‘day’ is marked by the hidden seams in a finished painting,” Fisher says. “I was interested in trying to map the relation of art to lived time.” Understanding what can and can’t be seen is a theme of the collection, which draws on Fisher’s experiences of being a mother, seeing her parents age, watching a dear friend die and living through the Covid-19 pandemic.

In reviewing the collection, poet and essayist Franny Choi, former Levitt Artist-in-Residence at Williams, says of her friend and former colleague’s work, “It is precisely Fisher’s masterful command over the line that allows Daywork to revel in unruliness and to confront, one frame at a time, the beauty and uncertainty of ‘what it is to be alive now.’”


Close your eyes, he said, and took my hand.

There was something he wanted to show me:

the seam called the giornata, raised like a scar,

running through the fresco, which marks

where one day’s work ended, the next began.

I wanted to trace that limit, to know

where the painter had found an edge

and stopped, the scaffolding descended

and the brushes washed, the figure left to dry


in the dark room, his one eye painted open

that will never see the rearing horse he rides—

you know the posture, you’ve leaned back in the saddle,

the beast beneath, you pulled at its reins

and told it to quit. It can’t quit, the bit in the mouth

and no sight in its eyes, seen and yet blind.

This was the drama he wanted to show, don’t you think,

or think of the women holding the room up,

the stonelike caryatids with their gray, empty eyes—


have you ever felt like that, like you are to keep

very still while the others move around you?

In birth I remember the midwife took my reins,

is that right, she held me here and there and reached

inside, she was touching my baby, I had nothing to do

but let it happen, I let it happen, so well trained really,

a vehicle, you ride me or drive me, oh but if you are

the head I am the neck, I will turn you to my advantage,

will make you see what is wrought through me—


From Daywork, by Jessica Fisher, reprinted courtesy of Milkweed Editions.

At top: Flora de Stabiae, Villa (di) Arianna inv. 8834, from the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli. Photograph by ArchaiOptix