R. A. Villanueva

With raw sienna crushed by fist
in mortar, umber ground
to tender shadow to flesh,
Michelangelo binds a body,

mid-thrash, to the plaster,
its death flex throwing a heel
into the sheets, a bare arm
up at the drapery tempered

with cochineal red. In this Sistine
pendentive, Judith and her hand-
maid carry the artist’s head away
on a dish, buckle at the knee

as if unable to bear fully the weight
of a skull hewn from the whole
of a man. On the mural opposite,
Michelangelo offers his skin

to the Last Judgment, hangs his face
elastic, lacking eyes or mass,
upon a martyr’s fingertips. All 
around the Redeemer, bodies vault

towards the clamor of heaven, plead
with their thresh and flail to render
themselves apart from the damned,
rowed towards a waiting maw.


These are the men Vesalius halves
and digs into: criminals fresh
from the Paduan gallows, gifts
of the executioner’s axe. Unfolding

the heads of petty thieves, he laces
what nerves and veins he finds
within their sutures into a crown
shooting skyward. He figures

a new man from their bared
tributaries, writes of arteries
as latticework. When the anatomist
poses for his portrait, he instructs

apprentices to draw him directly
from nature, beside a body opened
at the wrist, his fingers gracing
the exposed vessels of the lower arm.





Juxtapose Michelangelo Buonarroti’s The Last Judgment—finished in 1541—with the frontispiece of Andreas Vesalius’ De Humani Corporis Fabrica, published in 1543. Arrange the images so that the self-portrait of Michelangelo as flayed skin in the grip of St. Bartholomew is horizontally aligned with Jan Van Calcar’s depiction of Vesalius in the midst of revealing the viscera.

See crosses and how bodies clot. See Christ in the skeleton’s upraised arm. Think transfiguration, divination.