Gary Metras

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From In the Sistine Chapel

                   i. Inventing secret signs

Look up at all those penises on high—soft flesh
resting aside the ample thighs
of angels (Oh, bless their holy members!),
and of important men, consiglieri to God or princes.
These are not the Italians, dark and handsome,
of the movies. These are Romani,
competing with Medici and the Milanese.
But all that flaccid maleness—
even our progenitor,
couldn’t get it up.
According to the story, he didn’t have to
yet. That came later.
How much later no one knows.
It’s not like counting the generations
back to Moses, also occurring much later.
And not like the (very) early christians, before
the Capitalization of words,
as they clandestinely carried themselves and
Peter’s bones,
from place to hiding place, living,
themselves, underground, both literally and
figuratively, inventing
such things as:
                       secret signs
                       small, wooden crosses
                       the catacombs,
(thank God,
for soft volcanic rock beneath Rome
that readily succumbed
to stick, pilfered metal rod, or even
thumbnail); and not the same as later
Christians (Capital letter by then)
who argued over the genuflect—
its form, its length:
only one                                                                                                         
knee on the ground; head lowered; and not
too long a duration, else
a charge of excessive piousness; anyway
this obeisance neater, cleaner
than prostration, so that
it allowed the development
of button front shirts, pleated slacks,
and the miniskirt,
which was banned from this chapel
for generations, as were all women before then,
because of all those heavenly penises, awaiting.


Gary Metras’s new book of poetry is River Voice II (Adastra Press 2020). His White Storm (Presa Press 2018), was selected as a Must Read Title in the Massachusetts Books of the Year Program. His poems have appeared in America, The Common, Poetry, Poetry East, and Poetry Salzburg Review. He lives in Easthampton, Massachusetts, where, in April 2018, he was appointed as the city’s inaugural Poet Laureate.