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Two Friends of the Painter

Out of the blue we meet and your eyes drop down.

Here he comes and it can’t be avoided.


And we stroll the piazza as though we are friends,

Though we are only friends of our friend, the painter.


Your long-lidded gaze between cap and beard.

I passionately yearn for serenity.


Your treatise on rainbows I wouldn’t comprehend.

And the spice trade: you wouldn’t want to know.


You’ve read it all.  Myself, mostly Petrarch.

You fondly mend the sonnets I misrecite.


The angel and devil who war for my soul?—

With a wave of the hand you waft them away.


I believe you think: his heart’s in the right place.

I also believe you think: mine isn’t.


The frieze I’m about to praise makes you mutter:

“We’ve fallen in love with our own stupidity.”


And why shouldn’t I nod?  No doubt you’re right.

Lord, why not in me to perceive these things?


We advance along streets in our belted tunics,

Past alleys lively with women and children.


The young I study with envy and wonder

Seem for you the spawn of dull, obsessive gods.


And then there’s our differing taste in women.

(By the way, what is your taste in women?)


I’m some steps ahead as we pass in the chapel,

The dim and the cool, the smell of hewed stone,


And as our pupils widen we spy the painter

Devouring figs with a small cup of wine.


He guides us to the work that consumes him.

Your silence speaks of its growing perfection.


While one apprentice is grinding the paints

A second is feathering an angel.


And where I’d hoped for pride and a touch of glory:

The humility of a man who accepts his defeat.


I am neither an easy nor singular find

Where I stare in the press of the gaping herd


Around the martyr and the miracle,

Under the cloudbank’s celestial choir.


My open palms thrown out imploringly,

And my lean face in a frightened ecstasy,


With my thinning hair and unmanly chin,

A brow eclipsed by those of the elect,


Between the vain wife of a liquor merchant

And a prelate renowned for his lechery,


I fear and I adore, like everyone else:

An immortal no-one in particular.


I draw attention only to the vision—

It isn’t in me to tear my eyes away


As you have, gazing coolly out of the fresco

From the corner you share with the prince,


Your calm knowing eyes between cap and beard:

Friend, they say, is there anything more than this?


The whole sacred drama seems a backdrop

To your portrait of human understanding,


With your sympathies drawn to a future

I cannot glimpse or begin to imagine.


To see oneself through the cold clear eyes of a god!

And then to forgive, and to be forgiven.


I have to swallow hard to turn my eyes your way,

To meet the expectant gaze of the painter,


And to clasp his arm with the gratitude

I owed his truth: “You’ve captured it perfectly.”


A true friend and a friend of the truth,

This friend shared between us, the painter!

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