Rose Marie Berger


Architectural Detail
National Building Museum, Washington, DC

In several hundred darkened Roman arches
there is only one with a living,
breathing tympanum.
A painter,
with 10-foot-high aluminum ladder,
stands at the springline.

The arch’s span and rise
frame him in a way that, perhaps,
he is not normally in life.
His back fully arched—
columnar vertebrae give way
to graceful line of arm and tool.

The annals say: Michelangelo grew a goiter
in just this way, dwelling in the den of the papal
apartments, beard turned up to heaven...nape fallen in.

Now he rolls an egg-shell layer along the soffit,
oblivious to the possibility
his muscles convey,
light on shade, and
the sureness in his stroke.
See how much he loves the curve.

From below, seventy-two Doric columns,
seventy-two Ionic columns, and eight of
the world’s largest Corinthian columns
attempt to tremble with desire. Ill hath he
chosen his part
, lamented that artist to popes
and kings, who seeks to please the worthless world.

For often must he wear the look of ease
when grief is in his heart

Rose Marie Berger is an associate editor and poetry editor at Sojourners Magazine in Washington, DC. Her poems have appeared in several literary journals and magazines. She is co-editor of Cut Loose the Body: An Anthology of Poems on Torture and Fernando Botero’s Abu Ghraib Paintings (2007). Her book Who Killed Donte Manning? The Story of an American Neighborhood will be published by Apprentice House in May 2009.

The phrases in italics in “Architectural Detail” are excerpts from the journals of Michelangelo.


Published in Volume 10, Number 1, Winter 2009.


Read more by this author:
Rose Marie Berger: Wartime Issue