Raphael's The Mass at Bolsena
As I bake lasagna for our family squabble after Sunday high mass
I meditate the meaning of The Mass at Bolsena –
Raphael, Paisan, I feel a kinship with you
Almost five hundred years after your last erection with your lover Marguerite
That pearl of a model you could not marry but would never abandon.
Sure she was a baker’s daughter but I’ve had many a cozy night with Gina
The daughter of Marco who owns the Sicilia Pizzeria on Yancy Street.
He prides himself on his Tuscan bread crust and spicy sauce.
Sure the pope had his jack and I’m sure you were sick enough
Of painting Jesus, Mary and Joseph or a classical scene among the pillars of some Ode on a Grecian Urn city state -
So when you suggested to Julius that the Miracle of the Mass at Bolsena
Could be a nice wrap to the chapel around the doorway
He probably winced.
After all, the masses he and his minions mumbled
Each and every day were predictable as olive oil on pasta
With shredded parmesan,
And teenage confessions about sex and parental control – even then.
Old Julius would have preferred
Some blessing on a mount where he stood tall among his mercenaries
After a bloody victory in the village down the road
Or a naked nymph as the last stitch of tunic
Is about to be twitched off by some satyr’s beard.
Of course you sold him that he would be the star model
For the prime witness kneeling bare headed
Showing his bald spot before the altar
But wearing the crimson robes of his office – hanging like The Situation at the Scene,
His show of humility could only go so far.
Your drinking buddy, Luigi, must have been the model for the priest
I mean this miracle took place some two hundred fifty years ago
Time enough to ripen in the mythic morphology
Between the scandals of the children’s crusades and mass marketing of indulgences.
Raphael you nailed it when you added a few bros of Julius –
Nepotistic nephews and cousins – cardinals and bishops all
In the grouping to the old man’s right,
Then in women to the left added his daughter, Felice,
In the high renaissance equivalent
Of a little black dress.
Finally you put your hair up
Disguised as GI Joe in the group of the Swiss Guards in the cluster
Kneeling on the lower right, but you, Bro, were not looking up adoringly to the miracle in the center like the rest
Instead you stared out at me watching you.
I swear you are about to wink.
Look Dude, we get it
Sure the miracle that you painted
Was about the transubstantiation thing – Sister Maria Theresa tried hard to pound it into our horny heads
While our eyes clicked to Paula’s and Lola’s naked legs,
You know, where the host and the wine become the body and blood of Christ literally
But still tastes like a stale ice cream cone and last night’s left over chianti.
That was about as believable as Gina telling me it was only a cold sore.
But we both know my man that no matter the setting and the miracles of the church displayed on that fantastic stage you created,
Paisan, it’s all about family and respect
Even among the good fellas, the made men, with their mistresses on Friday night –
Even Julius with his patronage and papal wars
Knew deep down you were lying about the bread and wine thing –
Family is the real miracle.
Tyson West, born in Boston, MA a few months before the police action in Korea, has degrees from the Universities of Virginia and California, New York University. Publishing speculative and literary fiction and poetry distilled from his mystical relationship with noxious weeds and magpies in Eastern Washington, he has no plans to quit his day job in real estate. His poetry collection, Home-Canned Forbidden Fruit, is available from Gribble Press.
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