Selected by Dr. Joan Digby
Talking of Michelangelo
“in the room the women come and go
talking of Michelangelo”
T. S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Not only women but men also
talking and listening to audiotapes
as they strolled through the rooms
of the Metropolitan Museum’s
five viewer’s deep to get within
range of a red chalk drawing.
For me it was a positive absurdity
between the brown walls
low light macular degeneration
and my paltry height of barely five feet
making me wonder whether
Michelangelo himself was tall enough
to see these drawing hung
at the eye level of a camel.
I imagined him there
in a crushed velvet hat and cape
cruising the rooms
wondering what it cost to gather
in one place all the work
of his masters and students
dead these six hundred years.
I followed close behind him
too short so see anything
but the bottoms of frames
and the collections
from which they had been borrowed:
the Louvre, Ufizzi, British Museum,
and the Queen’s cabinet at Windsor Palace
places from which he earned not one lire.
Unable to see the drawings
I read the endless wall copy
A babel of curatorial jargon
instructing me about
the cost of paper and how
the great artist worked from wax
models and wrote perhaps a poem
perhaps a shopping list—I thought—
on top of the drawings
he intended to throw away
once the real work was accomplished.
“Notice the cross-hatching,”
a gentleman clearly an art historian
or wily dealer said to the woman
at his side who turned to admire
the musculature of a floating arm.
It was all, quite literally, above me.
Michelangelo stared in disbelief
that all these sketches had survived
his clear intent to toss them out
once his sculptures were complete
and how they had miraculously
attracted people who had
nothing better to do
on a rainy afternoon in New York
a city that did not exist for him.
We walked together toward
the quarter scale replica
of his Sistine Chapel ceiling
cheap and stunted as if
it had been designed as a prefab
to adorn Vatican Pizza
Venieros or some other joint.
The idea of pizza seemed
to interest him and so I offered
to get him the hell out of
this show right past his mini
Last Judgment and hop a
subway down to 14th Street
to Basile Artichoke where I
could introduce him to
a venerable slice he was
most welcome to draw
in daylight when I might
closely observe and admire
his delicate cross-hatching
and architectural detail.