(Museum of Natural History, Florence, Italy)
It’s no surprise the wax men
are wholly clinical; no doubt
they were fashioned solely to instruct.
Flayed and stoic, they stand or recline
impassive, rigid as medieval effigies.
And it’s no surprise the women
are another story.
They take everything lying down,
heads thrown back, lips open
in the manner of their saintly counterparts
who swoon above the altars
of Europe’s great cathedrals,
though it’s clear each woman here
was made for more earthly appetites,
the men who bent to mold them
being neither gods nor angels.
And though it’s certain their intention
was to banish mystery,
it’s also plain the sculptors loved
these silent beauties clothed in nothing
save what’s most unlikely--
a gold tiara or strings of opalescent pearls--
as if death or disease demands
such inexplicable decorum.
No doubt desire was the genesis
of each Venus’s molten birth, or else
they would not rest on beds of velvet,
luxuriant hair plaited and clutched
in an uplifted hand, or massed
around them like sea grass combed by tide,
glass eyes gone wide or drowsy
in the throes of being hollowed--
now made whole again.
And there’s no doubt each man
took up his task like any adept creator.
Here, a handful of formlessness.
Here, a handful of amber honeycomb
which became, at last, a figure
pliant as any good virgin sighing
the graced notes of her breathless Fiat.
Only one thing’s left to wonder…
whether it was the limit of his own mortality
that forced each man to cease
just shy of granting breath
to mouths sun-warmed by slant light,
or if each had come to understand
his Venus, if given a heart
that could clench, would refuse
the cold hands that sought to ravage her.
Frank Paino was born in Cleveland, Ohio and earned an MFA from Vermont College. His poems have appeared in a variety of literary publications, including: Crab Orchard Review, Catamaran, North American Review, World Literature Today, The Briar Cliff Review, Lake Effect and the anthology, The Face of Poetry. His third book, Obscura, is forthcoming from Orison Books in 2020. Frank’s first two volumes of poetry were published by Cleveland State University Press: The Rapture of the Matter (1991) and Out of Eden (1997). His awards include a Pushcart Prize, The Cleveland Arts Prize in Literature, and a 2016 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council.
The Ekphrastic Review
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