Michelangelo: To Giovanni da Pistoia When
the Author was Painting the Vault of the Sistine Chapel
by Michelangelo Buonarroti —1509

translation by Gail Mazur

I’ve already grown a goiter from this torture,
swollen up here like a cat from Lombardy
(or anywhere where the stagnant water’s poison).
My stomach’s squashed under my chin, my beard’s
pointing at heaven, my brain’s crushed in a casket,
my breast twists like a harpy’s. My brush,
above me all the time, dribbles the paint
so my face makes a fine floor for droppings!

My haunches are grinding into my guts,
my poor ass strains to work as a counterweight,
every gesture I make is blind and aimless.
My skin hangs loose below me, my spine’s
all knotted from folding over itself,
I’m bent taut as a Syrian bow.

And because I’m like this, my thoughts
are crazy perfidious tripe:
anyone shoots badly through a crooked blowpipe.

My painting is dead.
Defend it for me, Giovanni, protect my honor.
I am not in the right place—I am not a painter.