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To Giovanni da Pistoia

(On painting the vault of the Sistine Chapel)

1509

I’ve grown a goiter from this trap I’m in,
as cats do from foul water in Lombardy,
or some such place, wherever it may be.
My stomach’s almost up against my chin,

My beard points skyward, at my nape the store
of memory dangles, I’ve grown a harpy’s breast,
and from above, my dripping brush, for jest,
transforms my face into a mosaic floor.

And while my haunches press into my gut,
my ass serves as a steady counterweight.
My feet tread blindly somewhere down below.

In front I feel my skin stretched lengthwise, but
in back it crimps and folds. This is my state:
arched and indented like a Syrian bow.

Not to be trusted, though,
are the strange thoughts that through my mind now run,
for who can shoot straight through a crooked gun?

My painting’s dead. I’m done.
Giovanni, friend, remove my honor’s taint,
I’m not in a good place, I cannot paint.

(Translated from the Italian by Joel Agee)

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