At the Tomb of Leonardo da Vinci

   At the Chapel of Saint Hubert, Amboise, France

Whose bones are these, beneath a slab inscribed
with the name of Leonardo? Not all
is right, for the fleur-de-lys floor tiles run
upside-down around the graven floor-slab,
and the whole affair is sideways, transept
in a cramped chapel, a mausoleum
to Titan genius into which two gods —
the Bon Dieu and ever-bleeding Jesus —
have intruded, demanding obeisance.
Who comes to kneel, kneels at the wrong altar.

Leonardo sleeps not in Italy.
Long was his exile from native Florence;
his neglect under the scheming Sforzas,
ignominy among the courtiers
and silks of ever-wavering Milan;
Rome’s bitter rivalries, amid the glare
of Rafael and Michelangelo,
world’s capital not big enough for three.

So his (or someone’s) skeleton sleeps here
in the pale white light and lull of the Loire.
Here, once, he had a house — a tunnel led
from chateaux to work-room so sly Francis,
fretting over his unfettered brilliance
could visit him without a by-your-leave,
the Kings of France and of Science and Art
in long consults and colloquies, royal
nose and narrow eyes above the arm
and the stooped shoulder that drew,
drew endlessly and wrote in an unknown script.

What has Saint Hubert, with bow and horn,
the patron of deranged hunters, to do with him?
The spire is spiked with antlery, façade
with cross-bearing stag and hound and falcon;
at every turn a discordant gargoyle
agape with medieval gossip and spite.
Why not carve winged flight to the distant peaks,
or the gears and wheels of great water-works?
Why not stained glass to the glory of Man,
the unfurled secrets of veins and nerve and cranium
of his decades’ study of anatomy,
robot and catapult and helical gear,
the secrets of wending winds and sun-rays?
No one, it seems, had ever intended this,
a Gothic tomb for a Renaissance god.
Another tomb housed him, another chapel
leveled to rubble by angry peasants,
raided for building stone by Bonaparte.
And from that ruin and a scrabble-yard
of broken bone and tombstone fragments
they sought to re-assemble da Vinci.

Which one was him? Look, there! No, over there!
Bring a light! The one with the largest skull!
Would not that intellectual brow and brain
require an enormous head to hold them?
And there, that long humerus and radius:
make sure to find a matching pair for all.
Are those the metacarpals and finger bones
that painted the Mona Lisa? Yes, those!
Two hundred and six bones to collect
to assemble a complete da Vinci.
Did they get them all? Did they get enough?
Are there mixed in some trace of whore or jester,
some simpering cardinal or king’s mistress?
They did their best. Napoleon the Third
approved and blessed the new interment,
and France, once more, had its Italian.

Corpse or corpus, which matters most?
Nothing will ever awaken here, nor look
askance at his mis-matched hands
or grimace at unfamiliar incisors.
The corpus of an artist is his art.
Twenty-one paintings survive, our treasure.
Ten thousand notebook pages —Melzi’s hoard
for a scant half-century — as many
as a hundred thousand drawings upon
the densely-populated pages, cut up
to frame and sell the sketches, the writing
discarded, till half of his work was lost.
Five thousand pages of notes have come to us —
waited four hundred years to be published.
Only now do we know half of his words,
the body of Leonardo your hand
can hold and leaf through, mind to mind.

Whose bones these are, beneath the fleur-de-lys
flagstones of St. Hubert’s, who knows, or cares?
Da Vinci: your real winged self shall join us
upon the long, and cold, and lonely flight
to the far side of the bright field of stars.

— Brett Rutherford
April 12, 2017
Pittsburgh, PA.


Popular Posts