Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Michelangelo's Seizure

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Michelangelo's Seizure

Article excerpt

When it happened, finally,

on the preparation bridge,

where he had stood all morning

grinding the pigments, grooming

his brush-tips to a fine point

so that he could thread Eve's hair

like a serpent down her back,

his head rocked forward on the bell-chain

of his spine, the catwalks

rattling as he fell, a paint

bowl splattering the ceiling,

then spinning like a dying bird,

to the cathedral floor, frightening

the assistant, who-trained

in such matters-huffed up

the footbridge to wedge

the handle of a wooden brush

between the mousetrap of the teeth,

to keep the master from biting off

his tongue. Did the choir box

fill with angels? Did the master

feel the beast rising up in him

to devour the pearl of heaven

at the center of his brain? If you

were that assistant, kneeling

next to the stampeded body,

smelling the quicklime in the air,

the boiled milk of plaster, seeing him

tangled in the body's vines, voiceless,

strained, would you call it rapture?

The assistant didn't either, didn't even

consider it, or think to pray,

but sat watching as the spirit clattered

back inside of him, like a chandelier

lowered from a ceiling

and when it was over, he thought

he heard the artist curse softly

as he surfaced, a small word, violent,

so that when the master walked outside

to get some air, the boy sat atop

the scaffolding, eating his orange

and letting the fruit peels fall,

like drips of flame, feeling freer

in a way, almost glad. …

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