by Joel Brouwer
One winter, when much snow fell in Florence,
Piero de'Medici caused Michelangelo to make
him in his courtyard a statue of snow, which
was very beautiful.
–Giorgio Vasari's Lives
He found his rasps and hammers useless,
too crude for such soft stone.
So he chiseled the head
with his fingers: scratched ice
from the ears, rubbed his numb palms
against the cheeks to smooth them.
He stood on a ladder with his back
to the balcony, so the Medici's guests
could not see the statue's face take shape.
Clots of snow flew from his fingers,
dropped to the ground. The guests
amused themselves by guessing what magic
might be forming behind his black cloak.
Bacchus? Moses? Maybe the Pope?
After an hour, bored, they ordered the artist
to step aside. We cannot know
what they saw. Vasari doesn't say. But let's imagine
that silence falls thick as a blizzard
on the crowd. That the children drop
toys and hide behind their mothers.
That every eye wanders
up the snowman's bright muscles,
his dazzling, impossible flesh,
and locks to his lucid gaze,
which seems so certain, so candid,
that the guests shiver, look away,
turn suddenly solemn.
Later, at the feast, a young woman slips
from the table and rushes
to the courtyard, where a stray warm wind
strokes the statue's face, erasing
each feature. She climbs the ladder, stands
nose to nose, staring hard as if
the force of her looking will bring the face,
already so close to life,
to life. She scrapes away the thick, curved lips,
squeezes them between her hands.
She dribbles the liquid into a small glass vial,
which she'll wear on a necklace,
the water exactly as warm as her skin.
She imagines that strong, ruthless mouth
still beautiful, pressing heavy against her.
from Exactly What Happened. Purdue University Press, 1999.