Unfinished Michelangelo (poem)


Unfinished Michelangelo

The impossible bodies of apostles, messiahs and slaves,
statues that couldn’t have stood had he finished them,
faces half buried in membranes of marble
that threaten to swallow and take them back;
bodies climbing without hands or feet or legs
out of the mineral morass in the great struggle for birth:
a nearly headless body, torso only,
drowning in stone and digging itself from the grave,
its maker showing our true form, unfinished and flowing and perpetually Protean,
never an end and only beatific struggle.

Or just the notebook pages of body part sketches
some beautiful killing floor of floating limbs,
practice shoulders or torsos of livid musculature,
legs and poses and twisting masses of flesh,
stomach and waist and a turned back dark with ink and detail
slowly fading above and below into what was uninteresting,
rhythms of movement and skin
overbrimming the brain of this Dante of stone.

Or just an unfinished Christ from late in life,
Mary on some pedestal trying to pull her limp son straight,
their faces still lacerated by the chisel
but gone over and over with love
in some approximation of old Buonarroti’s own age,
broken body of ailments and groans
that still went tearing at this Pieta until the end,
an act of devotion in his lonely exhaustion,
the prayer of the undone more profound
than the most polished skin and bone.

It was stonecutter’s wife who nursed him, not his mother,
giving him the hammer and chisel along with her breast
and the love for the quarries far from Florence and Rome,
months of youth wresting marble from the mountains
only to dig a new body free in a blizzard of chips and dust,
ninety years of unavoidable labor in stone,
perhaps with a few friends but never at ease,
perhaps with a gang of help, but ever the One.

Originally published in the Basil O’Flaherty