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To Giovanni da Pistoia When the Author was Painting the Vault of the Sistine Chapel

by Michelangelo Buonarroti

translated from the Italian by Gail Mazur


I’ve already grown a goiter from this torture,
swollen up here like a cat from Lombardy
(or anywhere where the stagnant water’s poison).
My stomach’s squashed under my chin, my beard's
pointing at heaven, my brain’s crushed in a casket,
my breast twists like a harpy’s. My brush,
above me all the time, dribbles the paint
so my face makes a fine floor for droppings!

My haunches are grinding into my guts,
my poor ass strains to work as a counterweight,
every gesture I make is blind and aimless.
My skin hangs loose below me, my spine's
all knotted from folding over itself,
I’m bent taut as a Syrian bow.

And because I’m like this, my thoughts
are crazy perfidious tripe:
anyone shoots badly through a crooked blowpipe.

My painting is dead.
Defend it for me, Giovanni, protect my honor.
I am not in the right place—I am not a painter.


Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564), Renaissance sculptor, painter, architect, and poet, painted the Sistine Chapel from 1508-1512. (1998)

Gail Mazur is Writer in Residence in the Graduate Writing Program at Emerson College. She is founding director of the Blacksmith House Poetry Series in Cambridge. Her third book, The Common, was published by the University of Chicago press in 1995, and she has recently completed her fourth, They Can't Take That Away from Me. (1998)


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