At first I think Auden, no, not Brueghel’s Fall of Icarus
though I am momentarily worried that my grandson Sam
wants to fling himself off the balcony, could he use
a parachute he asks, no, Sam, no, there wouldn’t be time
for it to open before you land on the head
of that elderly gentleman hobbling to the bench.
No, definitely not the Fall of Icarus and those old masters
who were always right, but Auden’s comment about medieval poets,
bawdy but not grubby, your raucous flytings, sheer high-spirited fun,
and my grandson, prancing among the Greek statues,
so many guys and they’re all naked, he can’t believe it,
all of them with their marble weinees showing, at least the ones
that haven’t been knocked off. So while I am explaining
there once was a world in which people weren’t ashamed of their bodies,
a world where they wrestled and ran and danced naked,
he is beside himself, leaping the museum floor
among the students sitting and drawing
and the naked gods and goddesses and the wounded soldiers.
So I get out paper and pencil so my grandson can draw
and maybe sit still a bit, and he chooses the marble statue of Hercules,
as his subject, the armless one from the first century
with a Nemean lion as hat and coat. And we sit down
beside the elderly gentleman we saw hobbling below,
the one lucky to be alive.
And my grandson draws carefully, the lion teeth on the forehead,
the claws around the neck, the armless torso,
and of course, the penis, which in his picture, hangs to Hercules’s knees.
And the elderly gentleman who has been watching begins to laugh,
quietly, until his whole body is shaking.
And I think again about those poor men who take Viagra
and suffer for hours and hours, or so we are warned,
and of the money our government spends on the men in its military
so they can be prepared. The statue seems merely resigned to mutilation
and exaggeration, but the longer I watch my grandson drawing
and hear the old gentleman laughing beside us,
the two of them seem the flip sides of the same old coin.