Sistine Notebooks: Ezekiel

Whose judgment would be so barbarous as not to appreciate
that the foot of a man is more noble than his boot, and his skin
more noble than that of a sheep, with which he is dressed?
           —Michelangelo Buonarroti

It’s strange, yes, to begin with porn,

with the lowbrow ohs of mouths

ecstatic on those twentysomethings

from ages ago, their wide ‘70s hair

and longing looks at the camera’s lens;

to begin with a stack of nudie mags

“this big” (as we bragged to our boys

back at Robert Stuart Junior High),

slicks we kept cloistered in a cave

from rain and snow and the prying

eyes of mothers and little brothers.

The Snake River canyon is pocked

with these vestral fissures, womb-wet

and cool in the high desert heat,

the basalt walls insulating

our solemnest echoes, our stash

and our shame, the smell of lichen,

must, mildewed newsprint filling

our pores like burnt incense as we’d sit

and avoid each other’s eyes in our urge,

our blushing fear that—what,

that we’d never grow into something

like someone like the magazine’s

models would deign to lay?

With our eyes fixed on nipple and ass,

each curve, the pubic hair, the terrifying

allure of vagina, we sacrificed our pride

for sweet lust, groveled before smut,

put our faith in the power of those

unairbrushed bodies before all else.

We knelt at the altar of American skin,

the gyration and bluelit feet of wanting

our MTV, and like the rest,

I faked nonchalance as my pants grew snug,

browsing my Hustler as though it was

a grocery list or a back issue of Boys’ Life.

Afraid of my mates, desperate

to exorcise thoughts of my folks,

of the bitter creator whose words

I read in Ezekiel just six days before:

As silver is melted in a crucible

so will you be melted, and you will know

that I, the Lord, have poured out my anger

upon you. Or better, you will never cast

longing eyes on such things again . . .

The prim propriety of the lesson avoided

these lines, of course, but I could read

and fearfully scanned between the lines

highlighting the Israelites’ penchant for idols

and fornication. And yet here we were:

Mormon boys with our heads full of brimstone,

full of Ezekiel and competing caresses

of filth, as though like the ancient prophet,

we were consuming the crackly rolled thrust

of our sin, choking on a scroll penned

with our litany of faults. I think of him

as Michelangelo did, looking confused

as he must have been at the sight of God

as a wheel-within-a-wheel hanging garish

in the night sky, the orange lights spinning

hysterical above the cherubim’s shoulders,

as the ignudi support the ceiling’s faux pillars.

Prudish, as though to question the angel

beside him, he twists in his seat to turn his back

on the writhing mass of nudes, the figures

of creeping things, beasts and vermin,

all the idols of the tourists thronged agape below.

His fabled scroll dangling from his left,

his right hand raised in an indictment,

as if to hurl a question—What will we

not now worship?—at the camera-strapped

devotees being ushered along in pilgrimage

plodding day after day, almost scolded

for stopping to look, for ignoring the signs

of rudely crossed-out reclining silhouette

designed to warn them: do not pause, do not

prostrate thyself before these giants

fixed like stars in the firmament’s cobalt

and azure swing, do not—as Ezekiel must,

eternally—lie back and watch Adam’s cock

presented level with Eve’s plump mouth

as she reaches for the fruit of sin,

taking from a brawny, writhing serpent

a chance at desire, a chance to be wanted

and worshipped and loved, a chance

to perhaps divorce devotion from desire,

adulation from idolatry, to provide a millisecond

in a southern Idaho canyon for a boy,

suddenly loosed from his guilt in the blue

sky and languorous green of river below,

in the craggy apse in which he stands,

in the gloss of a magazine pressed in his hands,

to find his prayers in his mouth, his ransom earned.

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