Home > Poetry > To Giovanni da Pistoia When the Author was Painting the Vault of the Sistine Chapel
Michelangelo Buonarroti
Translated from the Italian by Gail Mazur
Published: Thu Oct 15 1998
Art: Paul TheriaultEver New (detail), 2022, acrylic and found paper on scavenged wood
To Giovanni da Pistoia When the Author was Painting the Vault of the Sistine Chapel

Translated from the Italian by Gail Mazur

 

—1509

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.

Gail Mazur is the author of seven books of poetry, including Forbidden City (University of Chicago Press, 2016) and They Can’t Take That Away from Me, a finalist for the National Book Award. Zeppo’s First Wife: New and Selected Poems (2005) won the Massachusetts Book Award and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. She is founding director of the Blacksmith House Poetry Series in Cambridge, a center for the poetry community since 1973; serves on the Writing Committee of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown; and is visiting faculty in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Boston University. She has twice been a fellow in poetry at the Radcliffe Institute. She lives in Cambridge. (2018)

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

Gail Mazur is the author of seven books of poetry, including Forbidden City (University of Chicago Press, 2016) and They Can’t Take That Away from Me, a finalist for the National Book Award. Zeppo’s First Wife: New and Selected Poems (2005) won the Massachusetts Book Award and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. She is founding director of the Blacksmith House Poetry Series in Cambridge, a center for the poetry community since 1973; serves on the Writing Committee of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown; and is visiting faculty in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Boston University. She has twice been a fellow in poetry at the Radcliffe Institute. She lives in Cambridge. (updated 4/2018)

Mazur’s The Common was reviewed in AGNI 42 by Jennifer Clarvoe.

Mazur’s They Can’t Take That Away From Me was reviewed in AGNI 54 by Peter Campion.

AGNI published A Tribute to Gail Mazur in AGNI 78.

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