To Giovanni da Pistoia When the Author Was Painting the Vault of the Sistine Chapel (1509)
By Michelangelo Buonarotti
Translated by Gail Mazur
I've already grown a goiter from this torture,
hunched up here like a cat in Lombardy
(or anywhere else 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 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.
Because I'm stuck 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.
From Poet's Choice by Robert Pinsky in The Washington Post Book World, a response to people who complain to him that they find poetry difficult: "Yes. And that is only one of the good things about it. Difficulty, after all, is magnetic, much desired: hence the video game, the crossword puzzle, golf. They are reliable, packaged forms of difficulty. Finding a worthy difficulty appears to be a great human goal, perhaps more central than success. And oddly enough, that worthy difficulty does not necessarily give pleasure. Sometimes we complain about it, as Michelangelo Buonarotti does in this poem...that the most celebrated of painters could write this about his masterwork should comfort (and amuse) anyone who has tried to make a work of art, or master a profession, or start a business."
After rushing through some work in the morning, I spent today in and around Annapolis, which is about an hour from here. Parking along the river, we walked to the US Naval Academy where we went first to the visitor's center, which houses exhibits on life for midshipmen, graduates who became astronauts, Navy athletes and John Paul Jones. We learned there that there was a wedding in the chapel so unfortunately we were unable to go inside, but we could enter the crypt where Jones' remains are in a marble sarcophagus. Nearby is the Naval Academy Museum, which houses a fabulous gallery of ship models, a main hall of naval artifacts and artwork and a nautical and military-themed bookstore. The Maryland State House is a ten minute walk from there, and since we obtained Crab House Nuts & Barnacles to munch on the way, we proceeded very happily through the tourist shopping district (which includes several stores with pirate-themed and seashore souvenirs) to the building which houses the House of Delegates and State Senate and which briefly served as the U.S. capitol from 1783-4.
It would be silly to go to Annapolis without having crabs, so we had an early dinner at Buddy's Crabs & Ribs (well, we had no ribs -- cream of crab soup, crab dip, crab cakes and chicken tenders for our older son who was in an anti-seafood mood). Then after stopping in a couple more stores -- nautical bookstores, museum stores and sailing equipment are widely available, along with local arts and crafts -- we drove to Quiet Waters Park in Anne Arundel County to hear Melanie Mason and her band. Blues guitar is not my favorite thing but I figure after taking everyone to see October Project and Jennifer Cutting,
The sarcophagus of John Paul Jones, the Scottish-born sailor who famously said "I have not yet begun to fight" when the captain of the larger HMS Serapis asked whether he wished to strike his colors during a bloody battle in which the Bonhomme Richard ultimately prevailed, though she sank soon after while Jones watched from the deck of his prize. Ill from having had malaria in his youth after having left Scotland for the sea, he died of kidney failure in Paris in 1792 and his remains were not returned to the US until a hundred years ago when they were placed in the crypt of the chapel. (Here's Geoff Hunt's painting of the Bonhomme Richard.)
Chapeau bras of Commodore Charles Wilkes, who wore it while leading an Antarctic exploration in 1841, now in the Naval Academy museum. Lots of naval officers are glorified for their exploration and scientific roles, not fighting, which I appreciate a lot (not trying to glorify the US military here but admiring the developments in sea power and technology).
I know this is a lousy photo but it's a miniature of the statue of Lord Nelson from in front of our hotel in Portsmouth earlier this year so I squealed in delight to see it among the British wooden ship miniatures in the museum. (Here is Nelson in Portsmouth, along the route he walked his last morning on land before boarding Victory and sailing to immortality.)
"Tecumseh" is what this wooden figurehead is called, affectionately known as the "god of 2.0"; midshipmen throw coins at the outdoor bronze replica of it before exams now that this more fragile wooden original has been moved indoors at the USNA visitor's center. The carving was meant to represent Chief Tamamend of the Delaware Indians and graced the bow of the third USS Delaware, which was burned and sunk by the Union in 1861 to prevent the Confederacy from taking the ship. When raised after the war, the figurehead was intact and has been at the Naval Academy ever since.
Freedom 7, in which Naval Academy graduate Alan Shepard became the first American in space. His flight in the Mercury spacecraft lasted barely 15 minutes, and having seen the size of the section that housed him from the ladder in this photo, also taken in the visitor's center, I believe that was a good thing.
Part of this year's Plebe Summer class marching on the USNA grounds. The program is designed to turn civilians into midshipmen.
And I get one dorky photo: these are the displays of books by Patrick O'Brian and C.S. Forrester in the Naval Academy Museum bookstore. Hee.