“In the Sistine Chapel” | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
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“In the Sistine Chapel”

A new poem by Scott Brennan

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The angels, please! It's Michelangelo showing off again,
mixing what's believable with what's not, work at heart

exaggerated, with those Schwarzeneggar biceps
and superhero legs that, because of the fresco's illusion,

seem to drop from the ceiling, more entertaining
than strictly religious, as if the crowd crammed

into the chapel were to be cloaked in an enormous page
not out of Genesis but of Marvel, enfolded in the powers

of red and blue pastel. When one has seen too much,
how can one then accept too little? The stars herald

the tour de force we're supposed to ooh and ahh at—
The Creation of Adam, now so ho-hum and cliché

(I can barely admit it, it's so perfect) after countless
coffee-table book appearances. Check it off, though,

as a birder checks off a pileated woodpecker, say, on his
or her "have seen" list. The person with the most wins,

though we're never sure what, except, one supposes,
bragging rights. Then: museum corridors, rooms, halls,

chambers, nooks, crannies—even more detail, more wonders:
goblets, urns, illuminated manuscripts, sculptures, vases,

globes, amulets, divans, thrones, hand-copied Bibles, putti,
Medieval tapestries, time-crazed maps, figurines, portraits

of pontiffs—the detail like too much icing on too much cake.
But, hey, what does a drop of water know of the depths

of the sea? Observe God's hand and Adam's bemused face,
the museum and the gift shop. Chronicle another chapter

of one's life in a notebook (and what a fabulous life it's been,
full of so many amazing experiences they have to be translated

into poetry)—and afterward the moment with Vanessa
in the old-fashioned trattoria when I tasted for the first time

saltimbocca alla Romana, leap into the mouth of Rome,
veal with garlic and wine sauce, and the putty-faced waiter

poured Chianti into my slightly speckled glass. The veal
melted
. . . The Chapel was so . . . What did you think of . . .

And the thousands around us (they moved me and I did
my best to move them)—all began to drift away,

leaving us with what we had almost forgotten
to appreciate: our two nearly touching fingertips.

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