In museums of beautiful art

In each great hall an exhausted tourist or a lover of art
whose life has come to this fine point, standing still as a sign,
is troubled to learn the truth of his companion’s mind, and
cannot calculate how far he’s come to know so little.

He knows the museums of beautiful art are full,
as much with pain as love; and all the masters, old and new,
knew just what we go to them to do… At every other corner
a blood-soaked scene, vengeful, pitiable, famous or obscure,

is excessive proof—with martyrs, slaughtered innocents, rapes,
betrayals—the world was shaved by a drunken barber; and,
at the next corner, the beautiful starvation of youth, which, like a theory
facts have not yet spoiled, reminds us of all longing unfulfilled.

It’s true, as we’ve been told, every dreadful martyrdom
must run its course. Paris, if he is not in love, is just a city
full of old stuff, unhelpful, jaded waiters, and dog shit.
Fall flat on your face in Rue Saint Denis, and Parisians laugh.

On such a day—beyond where Veronese’s butcher-cook hacks
away just above Christ’s head; and, following the signs, in the hall
past the spot where Leonardo’s Mona Lisa woodenly endures
the tourist crush—one more painting waits for him…

Saint John, the Baptist. From within the black world where nature
and hope have disappeared, the saint’s left hand rests upon his heart;
and his right arm, pointedly, shows the way to another world.
He steps into the traveller’s light and, with a kind word and gesture

to offer, smiling, says, “I know that you, too, suffer.”
Meanings that will not bring words to a traveller’s mouth,
the wounds he spoke of to himself at night, are recognised,
fixed forever, in the master’s art and the smiles of artless saints.


Originally published in Out of the Box: Contemporary Gay and Lesbian Poets, edited by Michael Farrell and Jill Jones, Puncher & Wattmann Poetry, 2009.

st_john_the_baptist_-_leonardo_da_vinci